Mrs. Nancy Richardson

I was so deeply saddened to learn of the loss of one of my dear friends, Mrs. Nancy Richardson. If you have come into the bookstore during the week in the last 7 years, there is a good chance you have been introduced to Mrs. Richardson. She had more literary credibility than anyone else I know, and I loved to introduce her to people with that tag line.
Nancy grew up in Garden City, Kansas. It is a name you probably recognize from In Cold Blood. She went to school with the Clutter children (two of whom were killed in the slaughter) and knew the family well. Her mother held the distinction of having arrested Capote during his research for the book. She worked as the administrative assistant to the Sheriff and one day when she came back from lunch she discovered Capote in the process of breaking into the locked filling cabinet with the crime scene photographs that he had been expressly prohibited from seeing. “Of course she had been deputized,” Nancy would recount. “She walked over to her desk, pulled open the drawer grabbed her badge and thrust it under his nose! OOOH She loved that! He was such a nasty, nasty little man!” Fifty years later the memory would still make Nancy glow. “It was the greatest day of her life!” Nancy used to say. “Better that when my brother and I were born.” Though she detested Capote as a person, Nancy was always quick to say that even though he never met the victims he re-created them for In Cold Blood “To the letter – as if he had known them his whole life. It was uncanny.”
As fans of the film Capote know, Harper Lee accompanied her childhood friend Truman to Garden City to help with his research. Any doors that opened for him, opened because of “Nelle” as Nancy called Ms. Lee. (Her first name). During their period of research Nelle contracted the mumps. Nancy’s mother recognized immediately that Capote would be less than useless in this situation and promptly moved Nelle into their house for the duration of her illness. Is there an aspiring writer out there who would not yearn for the opportunity for the author of To Kill a Mocking Bird to be stranded in their guest room with a case of the mumps?
Despite Nancy’s comments about arresting Capote being more important for her mother than Nancy’s or her brother’s birth, Nancy grew up knowing she was wanted as a child. Her parents were unable to have children and so both she and her brother were adopted with arrangements made through a doctor who would later help her transition to living in Chicago as a young independent woman. Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show made if acceptable for young women to leave home and try their hand at life in the big city- Nancy did just that - at her mother’s insistence. At 19 she went to The Windy City and got a job as a model at the upscale ladies boutique inside Macy’s. There she also met Tommy, the love of her life. It was a story book romance that culminated in a fairy tale wedding. Tommy’s family was well connected in Chicago politics, (the Daley family attended the wedding and Nancy and Tommy were guests at the Daley Home). But the wedding guests that truly dazzled Nancy’s mother were “The Dons” of Chicago’s Organized Crime Families. “She was so beside herself when she was presented to them at the party,” Nancy would recall. “She was more excited about that than my wedding.” Then Nancy would laugh that deep, signature belly laugh of hers. Tommy and Nancy had one beautiful, wonderful, little daughter, Jenalise. Tragically she and her father were killed in a boating accident on Lake Michigan. “And I was mad at the world for a very, very long time.” Nancy told me. If you knew her in her later years it would be hard to believe that she could be mad at anyone, let alone everyone. The twists and turns of life took her many places: Seattle, Moorhead City and eventually Wilmington, NC.
Here Nancy flourished becoming a fixture of downtown Wilmington, WHQR public radio and The Church of the Servant. But most importantly, she became “The Person” to the world’s most spoiled cat, Miss Lily Belle. Nancy’s love of people was only surpassed by her love of all cats, but Miss Lilly Belle, in particular. When not championing rescue causes, Nancy was probably the best cheerleader that most of her friends had ever met. I was unable to make it to her memorial service because I didn’t learn about her death until the day before the Saturday AM service. One of our mutual friends, Ken Purdy stopped by the bookstore while it was in progress and I lamented not being able to go. “But,” I said to Ken, “She was one of the bookstore’s biggest supporters and if I can’t be there, she would want the store to be open.” Ken chuckled and agreed “She was everyone’s biggest cheerleader. I don’t think I ever saw her not happy.”
Each person comes into our lives with something to teach us. Hopefully, we pay attention enough to learn what they have offer. Nancy’s life offered many lessons: finding strength in the face of tragedy, genuinely keeping people alive long after their deaths by the memories you carry with you and share about them. But most of all: being joyful for the accomplishments of others. I shall miss Mrs. Richardson very, very much. But my life has been improved immeasurably through knowing her and learning how to keep that memory alive.

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