For my Papa

To write a fitting tribute for our Papa, John Henry Richardson, proved no small feat. Not when there are so many beautiful memories and so many attributes to be so very admired. So I thought long and hard about my dearly beloved grandfather, John to some, Dad to his five blessed children and Papa to his treasured grandchildren, and what I could say to mark his life. He was the greatest love of my life and there’s so much to celebrate that made our Papa who he was and why I try so very fervently to follow in his footsteps.

If you were to google my grandfather, you would find a Wikipedia page dedicated to his sporting career and cricket was certainly a great love affair in his life. From his early days at Christian Brothers College in Pretoria as captain of the first team to captaining his team in his country district in Tzaneen, he would later arrive at the highlight of his career playing for North Eastern Transvaal. And even when his cricketing days were long past, I’ll always fondly recall many an afternoon in Port Alfred spent playing ping pong, my grandfather still a formidable force with a bat in his hand. I will never forget his endless mantra when coaching any of us in sport, to just “watch the ball,” which to me has proven not only useful on the tennis court but as a motto for life as well. But my grandfather was so much more than his sporting career, however much it undeniably left an indelible imprint to be passed down in the generations of our family.

 I once asked my grandmother, our Nana, what it was about Papa that endeared him to her most of all. He was kind, she told me, in a way that would endure all the ups and downs life might throw at them. And this kindness was something that my Papa led by example.

I never once saw my grandfather forsake a stranger when they came knocking on the door, hungry and in need. He would patiently listen to their trials and tribulations while I watched curious from the wings as a young girl. Then he would go to the kitchen and lovingly stir peanut butter and honey into a creamy spread and make sandwiches so the strangers were never to be turned away with a growling stomach. In his family life, and as a father, he lived for his family, practising an ethos of patience and calm and kindness, whether learning advanced math to help the children with their homework, to forever being a listening ear for any problem they came home with, dedicating himself wholly to any troubled soul in the home, and beyond.

 When asked by my cousin, Bianca, on the nature of God, our Papa replied simply but wisely that God is Love. And I am so often in situations asking what would our Papa do to find again my moral compass restored, and a policy of love and kindness at the centre of day to day living, to find the sacred in each and every seemingly insignificant gesture, and in this, my grandfather taught each and every one of us how to live a truly happy life, even in times of hardship.        

Beyond this, I think what defined the life of our Papa was the life of a craftsman in the truest sense of the word, able to make of each task he put his mind to, a labour of love and a fine art.

Whether pouring over architectural plans, whittling away hours on a lazy Sunday in the dark room developing his intimate black and white photos of the family, to recreating antiques and bunk beds and easels and whatever my gran’s heart desired in the home, built to last a lifetime, to creating photo albums with tiny little captions for each photograph from all their travels, to making the sweetest little flower arrangements for my Nana, he had a light and gentle touch and all the patience in the world to perfect every task at hand, with an infectious way of seeing all around with an ever curious and awe-struck vision.

Finally, he was a man who was never without his rosary. Only last week, when my grandmother and I were sorting through his clothes, we found one of his trusty rosaries in his swimming trunks, proving he was a man who couldn’t even go to the beach without the Lord by his side.

I am yet to meet someone who had as much a pure and unadulterated faith as my Papa. Whether the car had broken down on a family holiday, or David was going in to bat and the clock was ticking against the Proteas on the cricket pitch, our Papa would quietly disappear with his rosary and suddenly all was right with the world again, leaving me to suspect he had a direct line to our Mother Mary who would whisper in the ear of her Son. There was never a problem too big that the power of prayer could not make right for our Papa, and in this he was always a grounding presence to be around.

He will be missed by us all but his memory lives on, in his kindness, his quiet but inspired attention to detail in every task he tackled, and most importantly, in his immoveable faith. Loved by all who had the privilege to know him, I know that he had a one way ticket to his Heavenly Father, and that he will always be there when we need him, in memory and spirit, our ever dependable beloved Papa.

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