Richard always said he wanted a big party after he passed, rather than a service or memorial. He was able to enjoy such a party a few months before he died, when his wife, Penny, organized a wonderful get-together, in their beautiful home, in celebration of his 90th birthday. The party was attended by friends, neighbors and family members, and Richard got a chance to enjoy – while he was still alive – a huge outpouring of love and affection befitting a man whose every day on this earth was a celebration of life.
Richard Stanley Laird (Dick to many of his friends but Rich to others, like his daughter-in-law, Pat, who could never bring herself to call him “Dick”) was born on April 9, 1929 and grew up in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. He was the fifth of six boys and loved his brothers and his cousins beyond measure. He and his cousins and the brothers who were closest to him in age were a mischievous crew. He once ran away with one of his cousins because they both were tired of having to wash dishes at home. The two boys stayed at a boarding house for several days, but the only way they were able to pay for their room and board was…you guessed it…by getting jobs as dishwashers! When Dick and his brothers were grown up and married with children of their own, Dick went back to Pennsylvania for a big family get-together. He gathered around him the brothers, their wives, and their children and held them spellbound with a ridiculously funny story about how he had learned to French kiss by practicing with his older brother, Ray.
Dick met his first wife, Christine, at a USO dance in 1951, while he was waiting to be shipped to Korea. They married before he left for Korea and, after he returned, the couple eventually settled in Santa Barbara, California, where they raised two adoring children, Sherry and Bruce, in a home filled with excitement and fun. Dick was a proud member of the IBEW and worked tirelessly to provide for his family. He tried but failed to pass along his mathematical acumen to either of his children, but what he did pass on to them was a set of old-fashioned values, a deep love of family, a wicked sense of humor, and the style of a raconteur. He always said he didn’t like to give advice, but what he did give to his children was much more precious – with gentle support to button-popping pride, he let them know how delighted he was with their accomplishments, both big and small. He never pushed them to meet any particular goals but, instead, always encouraged them to do the things that made them truly happy.
He is survived by his loving second wife, Penny, to whom he was married for 37 years and with whom he shared many adventures, both on land and on sea. In 1982, Dick and Penny bought a sailboat, surprising everyone who knew Dick to be highly susceptible to seasickness. Once he got his sea legs, though, Dick proved to be an avid “yachtie,” and for the next several years, he and Penny lived on Pendria and then sailed down the coast of California, spent time in Baja, sailed to Panama (where they were detained for a time during an attempted coup d’etat), and finally ended up in Florida, where they sold the boat and got back to “real life.” Later, in 1995, they purchased an RV and traveled all over the United States for 18 months, visiting National Parks, friends, and family members while searching for a new place to live. One time, Dick called Sherry and Pat and invited them for a meet-up in Maine. Dick made a reservation for them at a bed and breakfast near the RV park, and when Sherry and Pat crawled into bed after an exhausting nine-hour trip in the car, they found that Dick had convinced the proprietor to let him short-sheet it.
Dick and Penny found their dream house in Twain Harte 21 years ago and settled into a wonderful life that included tending to the beautiful garden in their backyard, watching the finches gather at the numerous feeders placed around their spacious deck, enjoying the company of their neighbors, playing with their golden retrievers – first, Curly and then Lady – and being tolerated by their two cats, Boo and Radley.
Dick took up woodworking for a time, making flower and jewelry boxes, benches, and even a rocking horse. He became a voracious reader of both classic literature and modern fiction and usually had two or three books going at one time. But poker…ah, poker…was his ultimate passion. He had enjoyed playing Seven-Card Stud in his younger days, but as the game of Texas Hold ‘Em grew in popularity, so did Dick’s desire to master it. He became a fixture at the Black Oak Casino and a regular attendee at poker nights in [name of location deleted in order to keep confidential the surviving players’ identities].
On July 31, 2019, Dick had a heart attack, but he had a stent inserted into a major artery and was recovering nicely. He had started driving again, he was walking a little bit farther every day, and everyone expected that he would make a complete recovery. In fact, on September 2, he was just about to leave for the casino to play in the Omaha Tournament when he was felled by a stroke that took his life five days later. He was a gambling fool to the very end.
The loss his family and friends feel at his passing is immeasurable. But he has left in his wake such an incredible wealth of memories filled with boundless love, quick-fire humor, and shining examples of what excitement lies ahead when you follow your passions.