Matt Richardson, 1928 – 2023
By Chris Gralapp
If you have passed by the intersection of Sonoma Mountain and Pressley Roads during the last forty years or so, you have no doubt encountered a local man ambling the road, smiling and affably chatting with neighbors and friends, and generally illuminating that corner. That man was the 'mayor of Bennett Valley' Matt Richardson, a cheerful fixture in that part of Bennett Valley, who lived here for 61 years. Matt passed away in on April 26th due to complications sustained in an auto accident. He was 95.
My own personal memories of Matt revolve around the 1960’s, when he came to the aid of the local Bennett Valley Boy Scout Troop #55, which had been troubled by bad leadership. Both Matt and Mr. Ralph Millerick, the scout master, stepped in to right the course of the troop—and though Matt was not officially dubbed an assistant scout master, he certainly fulfilled that role to help get the troop back on a healthy track. His good humor and generosity with the kids was a significant contribution to the BV community. When I heard of his passing, I contacted his kids, Caryn Tognozzi and Mark Richardson, whom I had known from school days, to learn more about Matt’s long, eventful life.
Matt was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1928, the eldest of five children. The family moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland when he was a child. During WWII, city children were relocated to safer outlying areas, and Matt went to live with a rural family. After the war, and a return to Belfast, he became a tradesman, working in gas meter fitting and sheet metal work. Through mutual friends, he met and fell in love with Gladys Megaw, and 1952 they married. Matt felt that his prospects would be better in the US, so alone he booked passage on a ship to New York. Along the way, he lost all his money in a card game, entertaining a penchant for wagering he acquired during his youth.
Upon arrival in New York, Matt was diverted to Toronto, Canada, where as a UK immigrant it was easier to enter and assimilate--but yet, as he sought employment there, he encountered signs warning "Irish Need Not Apply". He worked and save up enough to buy Gladys an airline ticket—and when she arrived in Canada, she straightaway expressed a strong wish to continue to the US—Canada was not going to work out for her. They headed for Detroit, but that didn’t seem an improvement. So, as they were preparing to return to Belfast, a relative in L.A. lured the couple out to California, where Mark and Caryn were born in Redondo Beach.
The family took a vacation to the Russian River area, and felt that Northern California would be a better fit, so they landed in Santa Rosa--and one day in 1962, they took a Sunday drive through Bennett Valley. Matt had been taking night classes in real estate—and he had had his eye on a charming 1924 house at ‘Kirsch’s Corner’, deep in rural BV. When Gladys saw it, her instincts told her that this was the place! So, they bought it along with some beautiful adjacent acreage, during a fortuitous time in the market.
Matt hit his stride in the real estate field, buying and selling properties in BV, and building homes in Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Windsor. He acquired his broker’s license and ultimately joined the Bertolone agency, where he became best friends with Larry Bertolone, the owner. They spoke every day for many years. Matt was invited to join an investment group, started by good friends, which met every Thursday. Gladys surrounded herself with cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, peacocks and her beloved doves that Andrew and Michaela (grandchildren) accidently let out of their pen. She was able to get most back, but not all. To this day there are wild ringneck doves in the neighborhood as a result. The Richardsons have over the years come to epitomize the arc of the immigrant experience that forms the American Dream.
In his later years, Matt was the patriarch of a growing clan: two kids, seven grandkids, and 10 great grandkids. All continued to live in close proximity, with Caryn and Mark living and working adjacent properties. Matt became the overseer of the school bus stop, expanding on his love for kids and his community feeling. And, of course, he loved to walk the roads and visit with all who wee lucky enough to pass the time of day with him. He was a true gem in Bennett Valley, and his friendly wave and smile will be greatly missed.
An open memorial is planned for June 24, 2-5pm at the barn at 4000 Pressley Rd. Parking available in the field. Informal gathering with light snacks. Come and go as you please.