Lee Richardson, 1953-2010 | Front Porch | Indy Week
Pin It
The causes, the marches, the parties, the dope, the basketball games with his jumper so sweet ...

Lee Richardson, 1953-2010 

Not many corporate hotshots at the software heavyweight SAS Institute immerse themselves in Durham's rough-and-tumble politics, but Lee Richardson did. When I met Lee in the mid-'70s, he was a Duke undergraduate down from the mountains. He had big hair, an endless smile, a hankering for politics and a newfound obsession with Buddhism. Who knew where it would all take him?

Japan first—to meditate and learn the language, and it was there that the left-wing Buddhist hooked up with SAS. Through a 17-year career, he rose to become their vice-president for Asia Pacific and Latin America, picking up four more languages along the way.

But back in Durham, Lee participated in the political battles of the 1970s and '80s that came to define the city's future. He joined the fledgling People's Alliance, fought to stop the East-West Expressway from destroying the close-knit black community of Crest Street and worked hard for the biracial electoral slates that eventually transformed the city. I often wondered if his SAS compatriots knew. When he brought home a political button from the convention of Democratic Socialists, did he wear it around the office—the rose in the fist?

Lee left SAS in 2000, joined a couple of start-ups and had just begun work for a Durham-based company, TheraSim, when he died unexpectedly on a business trip to Addis Ababa two weeks ago. He'd traveled there to take charge of African sales of TheraSim's medical software designed to help fight AIDS.

I'll always remember the joy of our youth together—the causes, the marches, the parties, the dope, the basketball games with his jumper so sweet. One day, his pals Wib and Dub Gulley somehow combined to sprain both his ankles on the court. From then on, it was swimming, golf and tennis.

Lee loved newspapers. He adored his grandfather, the publisher of the daily in his hometown of Morganton. When I told Lee I wanted to start a newspaper and call it the Independent, he became the first shareholder after my mom and dad. He was only 29 years old. Where did he get that $5,000? I wish I could ask him now—and thank him one more time.

And women: Lee liked long legs and high heels—altitude and attitude. It is no wonder that he fell for Val Blettner. Eventually they went into the real estate business together, buying the Duke Tower Hotel in downtown Durham. Lee and Val shared so much: business, travel, Val's art, cooking and the beagles they rescued and brought home to their leafy bower on the edge of Forest Hills Park.

Two weeks before Lee died, Val cooked us a wonderful lunch, and we ate in the floral courtyard at Duke Tower. Lee praised Val's creativity and the hard work she'd done to make the place so beautiful. He talked with excitement of his upcoming work in Africa. Of course, we talked Durham politics. He still kept the Democrats organized in Precinct 9. What a friend: gentle, intense and kind—and I loved him.

  • The causes, the marches, the parties, the dope, the basketball games with his jumper so sweet ...


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Front Porch

  • One vote

    • Nov 12, 2014
  • Box of one

    Was I paying to be helped or to feel important, a bona fide expert on only myself?
    • Sep 24, 2014
  • The Old South (Hills)

    • Sep 17, 2014
  • More »

More by Steve Schewel

  • Why I started the Independent and why I am selling it

    The mission of the Independent has always been to publish the nation's best alternative journalism; to help build a just community in the Triangle; to create a great workplace for every individual here; and to make a profit doing it.
    • Sep 26, 2012
  • Remembering Tom Wicker

    In 1983, when Katherine and I walked out of the New York Times with the promise of columnist Tom Wicker's name on the Independent's first masthead, we figured we might really be able to publish a newspaper after all.
    • Nov 30, 2011
  • Reynolds Price at Duke

    Reynolds Price had some danger in him.
    • Jan 26, 2011
  • More »

Latest videos from the INDY

Twitter Activity


Nobody will be surprised to learn that Hocutt never went to Nam. He was in the Navy but washed out …

by Jefflenter on Raleigh bad boy no more (Front Porch)

I see his concern. Yes, it was a well written story and showed his caring side for sure. But not …

by Linda Bates Terrell on Motorcycle men (Front Porch)

Most Read

© 2015 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation