Teacher, author, husband, father. Born June 10, 1937, in Toronto, died Feb. 10, 2013, in Burlington, Ont., of Parkinson’s disease, aged 75.
He spent most of his career teaching, but Bob Richardson was also an author, train aficionado, dog lover, strong believer in the Ontario Building Code, poet, boys’ hockey coach, storyteller, devoted husband and father, and loyal friend.
He got his start as a chemical engineer for Shell, but teaching was his true calling. He spent most of his classroom time drilling the periodic table into students at Nelson High School in Burlington and Oakville-Trafalgar High School.
Bob was the proverbial “tilter at windmills,” though always with good humour. He railed against his students’ growing dependence on calculators in the 1980s. He decried violence in the NHL and the endless stream of advertising during Hockey Night in Canada.
He loathed the personal watercraft that disrupted the tranquillity of his family cottage near Owen Sound, and referred to callers on talk radio as a “cavalcade of nincompoops.”
Once, while trying to get comfortable on a cushion-cluttered couch, he went into an impromptu rant about throw pillows and how they were a greater ecological threat than the melting polar ice caps.
Such aggravations were a gift to Bob, because they were material. He was a frequent contributor to the Toronto Star and Cottage Life in the 1980s and 1990s. His best piece, a perfect example of his talent for self-deprecation, detailed how he had employed everything he learned in engineering school to move a heavy old cast-iron wood stove from his cottage into the back of his Subaru wagon, a truly Herculean effort. At the Keppel Township dump, the attendant peered into the stove, said “Them firebricks are in good shape,” proceeded to remove them all, and lifted the stove with one hand.
Bob wasn’t one to put on airs. At a fancy coffee shop, Bob asked the waitress for the closest thing they had to A&P instant. He was more at home at Tim Hortons, where we would spend a lot of time solving the world’s problems as well as taking bets on whether a customer who had placed his coffee on the roof while unlocking his car would remember before driving off.
Bob was a news junkie who always had an interesting spin on current events. The morning it was revealed that scientists had cloned a sheep – the famous Dolly – Bob phoned me first thing. “Do you want to live in a world,” he asked, “where all the sheep look the same?”
He was devoted to his wife, Pat, and tireless in supporting his children Leslie, Pete and Bruce. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nearly 20 years ago, he took an early leave from teaching. He kept as active as he could for as long as he could – he spent much time hiking – but for the last decade was mostly consumed with writing a book of short stories about a fictitious community, Devastation Rapids, based on his boyhood home of Acton, Ont. He rewrote those Leacock-like tales a hundred times, and every six months or so would tell me he was just about to compose a letter to a literary agent. But finishing the book would have brought an end to his greatest pleasure.
That’s where I like to imagine he is now: in Devastation Rapids shooting the breeze, trading stories, laughing at the foibles of himself and others, tossing cushions off the couch.
Linwood Barclay was a friend of Bob.