2014-06-05 / Front Page

Community to honor long-time director

Charlotte Richardson ran senior center for 22 years
By Margo Sullivan

Charlotte Richardson Charlotte Richardson Charlotte Richardson, the senior center’s executive director for 22 years, retired earlier this year. On Saturday at 2 p.m., the center will host a reception for her.

Richardson, 86, said she intended to leave quietly, but Ellie Chase, a member of the senior center’s board of directors, said the reception will just be a little party, nothing fancy.

“I didn’t want all that fuss,” Richardson said. “I did my job. They paid me what I asked. It was a nice job with nice people.”

Among those people were Jan Burns and Ernest Anthony. Richardson has known Anthony since he was 3 years old. Following graduation from high school, she moved to Jamestown and became friends with the Anthony family.

“His aunt was one of the first people I met,” she said.

Richardson is originally from New Bedford, Mass., but her family moved to Rhode Island after the Wharton Shipyard owner tapped her boatbuilder father to supervise an operation in Bristol. She changed schools so often that she barely can remember her old classmates, she said.

Richardson went to grade school in Warren, and by eighth grade she attending junior high in Bristol. Her family moved to Jamestown three months before her high-school graduation in 1946, and Richardson stayed in Bristol weekdays with one of her mother’s friends and came to her new island home on the weekends.

She wasn’t happy when she first saw Jamestown, she said.

“When I got off the boat, I thought, ‘What a dismal place this is,’” she said.

According to her first impression, Jamestown was beautiful, yet dull. But she changed her mind quickly. Halfway up Narragansett Avenue, on her way to West Ferry, she turned around and saw the view. Jamestown had beautiful elm trees then, she said; they have since been lost to disease. But the picture of the trees and the boats skimming along the harbor was “just so pretty” that she felt happy about her new town.

Mary Cabral, now Mary Green, was the first person she met.

“We became close friends,” Richardson said. “She took me around and I met everyone. I felt like I belonged here.”

She met her future husband, Vic Richardson, after one of his friends introduced them. Charlotte, who studied business in high school, took a couple of bookkeeping jobs in Providence.

Her aunt wanted her to teach, but Richardson, who did not want to continue in school, turned down her aunt’s offer of a convertible and a trip to Italy.

“I was going out to tackle the world,” she said.

At one point, she toyed with the idea of working in Washington, D.C., but she never went through with it.

“I never planned,” she said. “I just rolled along with the tide.”

Plus, she also disliked cities. “I didn’t even like Warren,” she said. “I liked it quiet.”

In 1948, Richardson married and started a family. On weekends she filled in at the spa next to the old Jamestown Press building, but that work was mostly to help out a friend who needed to take a little time off. Richardson then joined the American Legion Auxiliary to keep busy.

“I could always find plenty of things to do,” she said.

Ultimately, she ran for Town Council. She was the first Republican woman elected and served multiple terms during the 1980s.

Meanwhile, she and her husband raised four daughters. Their four grandchildren are all married and live on the island, and they have eight great-grandchildren. One just turned 3, and Richardson had them over for the birthday party. Seeing them makes her “feel like a million (bucks),” she said. Her husband’s family is also here. Vic Richardson’s brother Don and sister Dot Blythe live on the island.

As she started her family, Richardson became active in Republican Party politics. When Jamestown obtained a home rule charter, anyone could run for office. She was first elected to the Town Council in 1979 for a two-year term, finally stepping down in 1985. She was asked to run again, won, and stayed on the council until the Republicans lost in 1991.

“I did really like it,” she said. “I liked knowing how problems worked out.”

During those years, a lot happened, she said, as Jamestown started to modernize. People became aware of water shortages and began efforts to conserve. Other environmental issues came up, she said. For example, people realized the problems with trash and cleaned up the dump.

Richardson was also on the board of the Conanicut Grange when the seniors were searching for a building.

“There was a long time before there was a senior center,” she said.

The seniors started out meeting at St. Mark Church, and when their membership grew, they moved to St. Matthew’s.

“But they needed a place of their own,” Richardson said. “That would have been my mother’s group. They tried dozens of places, but there was always something wrong.”

Richardson said she did not come up with the idea of using the building on West Street for the senior center. As she remembers it, some people saw the value of the plan and other people opposed it.

“I was in a position to make it happen,” she said. But the building was dilapidated, and the repair job called for tearing the shingles off the entire building, even the roof. But everybody helped.

“Kindness poured out of the sky,” she said.

One woman donated the money to fix the roof. To fix a drainage problem, Archie Clark donated his equipment and made the repairs.

“It took on a life of its own,” she said.

Every time a problem came up, money came in to fix it. On the opening day in 1998, the band marched up Narragansett Avenue. Unfortunately, her mother did not live to see the day.

She became involved with the center operations because the treasurer did not know bookkeeping. Richardson did, and took over the financial reports.

“I went to see an attorney I knew, and we worked something out,” she said. “Every three months, I gave them a full report.”

Richardson remains grateful to the volunteer firefighters who helped protect the senior center by quickly extinguishing a fire last year, and she also made sure to commend Bucky Caswell for installing the fire alarm in the building.

“I never had a chance to say that,” she said. “He’ll probably kill me, but if they let me speak on Saturday, that’s what I’m going to say.”

Since Richardson stepped down, the board is discovering all the work she did.

“There’s a lot to being executive director, which we have found out,” Chase said. “Charlotte’s been super-helpful.”

Chase met Richardson in 1999 when she and her husband moved to Jamestown and became involved with Meals on Wheels.

Richardson is one of the people who make Jamestown what it is, Chase said. The public is invited to Richardson’s farewell at the senior center Saturday, and Chase is hoping for a full house.

“Jamestown is known for people who contribute to the community, and Charlotte certainly joined in and put something out there for her neighbors,” Chase said. “She’s done a great job.”

“I’ve had a great life here,” said Richardson, and would only wish “not to be so far along in it.”

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