Before Rich and I married in 1973, my friends asked me, “Why Rich?” My answer was, “There’s no one else like Rich.” And while each individual is truly unique, Rich was even more so. I think all who were blessed to know him would agree.
Rich was born in Syracuse, New York on August 12, 1946. It’s said that his father ran around the streets near the hospital joyfully announcing his birth. Rich has two older sisters who adored him. He had the gift of a rich Christian heritage and enjoyed a rare closeness with his family. Part of the Read family legacy is enduring commitment; his parents were married for over seventy years. Another legacy is laughter, deep, resounding, joyful hilarity, and too many silly pranks to recount here.
Rich grew up bold and confident, bolstered by his family’s strong support and his own natural gifts and talents. One of his greatest talents was making friends. He developed friendships which have endured for decades. Faithful friends are hard to find; Rich had an abundance. There is really no mystery here; he had so many friends because he was a friend to so many.
We met in college when I was a freshman and he a second year senior. He always said that he managed to cram four years of education into five! One thing that I appreciated about him from the get-go was that he remained friends with all the girls he previously dated. I realized that there was something both unique and wonderful about this. I could look forward to being friends in the future, since Rich had three “vows,” – never get married, never be a pastor, and never have children.
Ironically, we were married over 46 years at the time of his death, he was a pastor for even longer, and we have three children, many “adopted” children, one granddaughter, and two more on the way! He was an amazing pastor/mentor, a remarkable husband, and an exemplary father. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
As I said, Rich had myriad gifts. He was a true visionary; he had an enviable grasp of the Scriptures along with the ability to teach others. Though he hated reading, it was truly a labor of love that he was such a committed student. His breadth of knowledge was impressive, and he maintained serious study habits even when in failing health. Another natural asset was his knack for connecting people. Friends have become friends, relationships formed, and connections maintained because of Rich, even though people might be unaware of his influence behind the scenes.
Ill health has been part of the Rich story for many years, especially in 2010 when he was afflicted with transverse myelitis, an “idiopathic” illness which rendered his previously strong legs weak and painful, and consigned him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his days. The pain only increased through the years, as did many other health problems, especially in the last couple of years. Through this trial, this local body of believers learned how to become caregivers. Rich had to learn to become a care receiver, transitions which were not easily made at times. During his frequent hospital stays, Rich was never left alone. This little “company of the committed” stepped up and tag teamed for many hours, days, weeks, and months. Friends and partners came to help, demonstrating true friendship. “Greater love hath no man…”
Even with his body failing in countless ways, wracked with constant pain and sleeplessness, Rich still managed to teach a young disciple to prepare him for baptism, teach about the nature and purpose of the Church, conduct ad hoc parenting sessions, and love and mentor pastors and friends. He still called the congregation on to greater faithfulness, and tried to maintain a sense of humor, albeit not always successfully. He still managed to remember special occasions and find ways to buy special gifts for others. He was extravagant in his generosity and in his larger than life persona. Few folks who knew Rich had not been treated to a special meal with him. If he could no longer go out, he made certain that others could share meals on his dime. Table fellowship was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry; Rich took this example to heart.
His teachings, exhortations, sayings, and life examples continue to instruct us in this congregation. He was fond of encouraging us with these words from one of his favorite hymns: “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.” (Great Is Thy Faithfulness) This has gotten us through many a difficult struggle.
Fittingly, we were able to donate Rich’s corneas. It is nearly miraculous that there was anything salvageable from his bruised and battered body. During his lifetime, Rich had brought spiritual insight and vision to many of us who once were blind. He was able to give actual sight to someone through his death.
It would take too many more pages to capture the essence of this extraordinary man. He had wanted to come home from the hospital, but was unable to due to essential medications. When he died on January 30, 2020, one of our young men stated, “Rich got to leave the hospital.” Indeed he did. Hallelujah!
March 15, 2020