I never knew how he could manage it all.
For several years Robert Alan Richardson wrote sports for this newspaper. We lost “Coach” last week after he finally succumbed to a host of illnesses and pain and trips back and forth to hospitals and healthcare providers.
Coach was 64 years old and leaves a mourning family and community.
He also leaves an enduring legacy. Robert Alan wrote countless stories covering your children as they played the games that he, too, played as a young man or as a coach later in life. Initially, I believe, I tried to coax him to fit into a prescribed method of journalism, one that we all learn grinding through school. “You start here,” I would say, “and you should end here.”
It never worked, thankfully.
Coach wrote from the heart, and Lord, this man had a large heart.
There is a yellowed, faded photo of Coach and his brother Alvin Richardson that ran in an old issue of The Madisonian that I love. On the left is Alvin, shortstop for Georgia College and to the right is Robert Alan. He played second base. And there they stand, uniforms smudged with dirt, glorious sideburns, suntanned arms stringy with country muscle and the look on their faces is youthful confidence and for both there is a whole lot of swagger.
When I met Coach he could barely walk. He struggled to get from his truck to the office door but he wanted to try his hand at writing sports. He had retired from a life time of teaching and coaching and wanted something new to do. He was convincing but I worried.
I shouldn’t have.
He poured the same level of effort into sports writing that he gave to countless children in coaching and teaching. He had resolve.
At Robert Alan’s funeral last Saturday at Centennial Baptist Church a third and younger brother, Pastor Terry Richardson, said a lot of things that helped describe a complicated man.
“He got in the game and played hard,” Terry said.
“Even though he was in a lot of pain, he wanted to go.”
On March 26, 1982 Coach gave Terry a kidney. “My family led a normal life because of the sacrifice he made for me,” said Terry.
If you know the Richardson family you know kidneys are not their strong point. Coach would later need a kidney, Alvin has had a kidney donated, too.
But Coach kept going.
At the end, for our working relationship at least, Coach used a walker. At the end he was struggling to get from his truck to the stadium, to the ball park, to an interview. At the end we walked proofs of his beloved sports pages to him and he edited those pages from the front seat of his truck.
At the end, I never told him how much I admired him.
So I’ll tell you now.
“I can’t even comprehend the physical pain he’s been in,” his brother said Saturday. And neither can you, comprehend that pain. Neither can I. Coach used a walker to limp from truck to field, from bleacher to dugout but by God, the man never quit. During his life as a teacher and coach he gave it his all. At his funeral Saturday and visitation the night before, students and athletes paid homage to a man who changed their lives. “He influenced a lot of people. There is a long line of students and student athletes that he had an impact on,” Terry said.
For us, for this newspaper, he had more than a gift of words; he had grit. Coach never quit. Never quit on his responsibilities at the paper, never quit on his family, never quit on his friends.
That was his story.
That was his song.