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Richie, Richie, Richie…
I met Rich at freshman orientation at Lynchburg College in August, 1975. My freshman orientation packet said that I was to meet with my group at my assigned table in the dining hall. After getting my dinner, I found the right table and sat down across from another freshman. There was no one else at the table. I think it was fate. After what seemed like a couple of minutes, a conversation started. We talked about our hometowns. He told me that his family lived in Manassas, but that most of his life was spent in Naples, Italy. As you all know, he was very proud of his Italian heritage. He was very proud of his life, family, and friendships in Italy. After awhile in this conversation, I asked him if knew anything about school sports. “I would like to run cross country,” I said. Well with that question, there was much to talk about. It did not take too long to realize that while I enjoyed running, for him, it was his passion.
Rich became my closest friend through college. Through that friendship I made other life-changing friendships that carry on today. He told me his happiest time in college was his senior year. That is when he met his wife Nonie. I remember their first date when Sandi Parker introduced them. Many times he would head over to Randolph-Macon Women’s College to see Nonie, or she would be headed to our campus to see him. Rich and I were roommates that year.
Several years after college and living in North Carolina, I realized that I had no friends and a job I did not like. I was thinking of moving back home to the D.C. area. Rich and I talked often on the phone. At that point, he said, “Look, why don’t you try it out here.” I told him I had no money and no job prospects. He said, “Brad, you can stay here, sleep on the sofa. I will get us some paint jobs to help get you started.” So, Rich and Nonie graciously opened up their home. While I slept on the sofa, Andrew shared the “mamote” [remote]. A month later, I got a place to live and a full-time job. I do not know of many friends that would open their home up like that, but then that’s Rich.
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After a year in California, Rich and I traveled to Santa Barbara to see his sister Sandy and her husband Michael. They introduced me to Michael’s sister Carla. A week later I asked Carla out. Two years later Carla became my wife and Rich was my best man.
Rich loved the outdoors. We loved going to Anza Borrego Desert and Mount Palomar. Although we drank a lot of beer on these trips, the true meaning came from enjoying the beauty of the mountains and wide open spaces. He told me that his greatest physical achievement was his reaching the summit of Mt. Whitney. If you are not familiar with Mt. Whitney, at 14,850 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. It is taller than Mt. Rainier and taller than any of the mountains in the Rockies. His friend Pete invited him to join his team, and Rich asked me to join the group, as well. Rich’s idea was for me to carry the pack of his things and my things and then we would trade off on the trail, me with my PowerBar and extra socks — him with his sweater, PowerBars, water, Gatorade, vitamins, Band-Aids, snake-bite kit, extra socks, and a pancho. The pack weighed about 35 pounds. The climb started at 3:00 a.m. After two hours on the trail, I was exhausted. He was talking, laughing, and bouncing up the trail, talking it up with the others. Another hour on the trail, I had enough of the hike. I turned around and he kept going. That afternoon he reached the summit. On the trip home he told me that the Mt. Whitney hike was even harder than our one-day full descent and ascent of the Grand Canyon five years earlier.
Our connection through school maintained a sense of humor that carried us many years. That humor made most people wonder, “When are these guys going to grow up?” Rich’s humor was always directed at himself. This is what made him so endearing. Whether it be walking down the hallway showing his rear to get a laugh out of his sisters and family, or hanging around the pool to see if his physique would attract enough attention from his sons’ friends. Often I would be stuck in traffic and say to myself, “I wonder what Rich is doing?” I’d phone him up and we would laugh about nothing but stupid humor. I never laughed so hard and so often as I did with Rich. I’m sure you’ve had some voicemail from him as some strange person that usually had an Italian accent and a name of Guido. “Buon giorno…”
Rich had a huge heart that never judged people. He always accepted people as they are. That is so Rich.
Today I have to tell you that when I see my wife and son, I remember Rich. When I see his family, I remember Rich. When I see all of his friends, I remember Rich. That’s what made him so Rich.