Leon Worden

Goodnight, Richard, my dear friend

Leon Worden · April 30, 1997

'Tree at Sunset' by Richard Rioux
"TREE AT SUNSET" by Richard Rioux

"I love you" were the last words Richard Rioux and I said to each other.

I suppose, if I were to stop and think about it, I'd be glad those were our last words. But I can't stop to think about it. The bewilderment is too great.

It's not as if I go around telling men I love them. My father. I don't tell him often enough. Dan Hon. I'm thankful I had the chance to remind him. Richard Rioux.

Richard and I met for the last time on Easter Sunday. We bumped into each other in the parking lot behind Gallagher's Old Town Restaurant, in his family's yellow Victorian shopping center in downtown Newhall. Richard had just come from Easter brunch with his family, and I was about to have brunch with mine.

How awful this must be for Suzanne and the kids.

We spoke about his health that day. He hadn't been feeling well -- in fact, he had taken a leave of absence from his Signal column -- but he was determined to bounce back.

Death was certainly not in the equation.

Richard and I didn't really get to know each other until after the earthquake. We were soon keeping tabs on one another almost daily. Strange, how you can know someone so briefly and yet grow so dependent upon him.

It was late 1994 when Richard wrote a Signal column outlining his vision of what he called "Old Town Newhall, USA." It went far beyond fixing up the downtown area. Richard's Old Town Newhall was a move to recapture the heart of our city, our valley, and create Something Wonderful. Richard's Old Town Newhall would showcase our common history while uniting our valley's unique assets -- from the Hart Mansion to Magic Mountain to the Sand Canyon golf courses -- into a tourist mecca that would create thousands of local jobs and bolster our pride and identity as a community.

"Stay tuned," Richard said in his commentary. "You might be hearing more about Old Town Newhall, USA."

Today, Old Town Newhall is a household phrase.

Richard was well aware of that when we last spoke. The revitalization of downtown Newhall, the launching pad for his greater vision, had developed a life of its own. Where revitalization attempts failed in decades past for lack of focus, this time it looked like the critical mass had been reached.

Richard had the skills to bring our community leaders together behind his goal. He was a true visionary, yet pragmatic enough to know it would take years and years of perseverance and the involvement of people throughout Santa Clarita to make Old Town Newhall, USA a reality.

Did you know Richard was working on a major motion picture? He wrote a screenplay for what he sometimes called "a Christian version of 'The Last Temptation of Christ.'" He'd been lining up European investors for his $7 million venture and expected to begin filming soon.

Richard's abilities transcended his writing. They worked their way into his photography. People who see his coffee table book for the first time are dumbfounded. "I never knew the Santa Clarita Valley looked like that!" is the common reaction. I was honored when Richard asked me to edit the text. I think copies of "Images: Sunrises, Sunsets and In Between" are still available around town. Richard wanted to do a second book this summer.

There is so much left undone.

Richard was the genuine article. It seems too -- I don't know, little -- to say he was dependable, honest, brilliant, a kind man, a selfless volunteer, a hard worker, a good listener. He was a gentleman giant.

Richard closes "Images" with this passage:

"There is something special about spending time on a wintry night in front of a fireplace reading about space and time. Reflecting on the enormous distances between stars and the vastness of the universe helps place our lives in the perspective we need to sense the power of God and to make us more compassionate toward one another on the spaceship we call Earth."

Goodnight, Richard, and bon voyage.

Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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