The Tie that Binds

Story by Jeannie Stone

Yellow used to be my favorite color, but since I received ‘Holy Boldness,’ I like red best,” Rev. Rita Richardson said.

Red is not a shy color. Richardson, a radio broadcaster, community volunteer, musician, preacher and caretaker, is a colorful member of the community; except for when she is behind the pulpit, she is admittedly shy.

Behind the pulpit she receives the ‘Holy Boldness,’ she said, and she is encouraged by the friends and family members who first encouraged her step up to the altar. 

The Lord gives me self-confidence when I preach His word,” she said, simply.

“Entering the ministry is not something I thought I’d ever do because I’m a quiet person,” Richardson said.

“Our folks just didn’t send us to church,” she said. “They took us to church. My parents sat in those pews. My grandparents sat in those pews. The times are very few when I haven’t been in the Lord’s house on Sunday.”

Devoted to the cause of raising their children in church, Rita’s father, who was a member of a local Baptist church while she was growing up, moved his church membership to Central Christian to worship with his family.

“We were shocked but happy,” Rita said. “I always thought it was weird that he didn’t follow in his own brothers’ footsteps, three of them were ministers, but Daddy never felt the call.”

Richardson’s Uncle David, who pastured churches in Michigan and Little Rock before he died several years ago, was her mentor.

“He always encouraged me,” Richardson said.

It was Rita who felt the call, sister Rockie said. “I remember the day she accepted Jesus. She came home from church and sat on an old stool and stared out the window for what seemed like hours. Her joy was past the point of being full, it was overflowing. It was on that day I believe God put His hand on her, and she received her apostolic calling to minister.”

“My ministry is unique,” she said. “Most of the congregation is made up of family and relatives in the community. When we found ourselves without a pastor years ago, I began filling the pulpit. I thought it was only going to be a temporary assignment.”

Sixteen years has passed, and there is no sign Richardson or the congregation is ready to break the strong bond which ties them together.

Family members are blessed she decided to return home after a successful radio career in Little Rock, which utilized her degree in Journalism from Arkansas Polytechnic College (now Arkansas Tech University). She worked her way up the corporate ladder advancing from a night-time news anchor and reporter to morning editor, and, ultimately, news director at KARN and the Arkansas News Network.

The big city job afforded her many opportunities, such as attending press conferences for Ronald Reagan, Dick Gephardt, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, former president Jimmy Carter and other national VIPs, but her work days as a reporter began at 4 a.m. and stretched well past the usual eight hours.

Born to Willie and Mary Richardson 55 years ago, Richardson grew up with four brothers and one sister. In 2004, the siblings lost their brother John Brown. Rita’s other siblings are Clyde Brown and younger siblings Kenneth Richardson and Rachelle “Rockie” Richardson.

It’s a hectic schedule at the household. Rockie has bone marrow cancer – the same cancer that took their father in 1987. Rockie frequently visits the Arkansas Oncology Associate at Saint Mary’s Regional Regional Health Center for treatment and occasionally visits UAMS in Little Rock for check-ups. “It takes a lot of juggling,” Rita said, “because my sister doesn’t drive anymore.”

Richardson works part-time as a news reporter at KARV radio in downtown Russellville and often relies on friends to help “juggle.” General manager Chris Womack has the highest praise for Richardson.

“She is well respected in the community, and we’re very grateful to have her on our staff,” he said. “She’s a very dedicated woman in everything she does.”

Not only does she tend to Rockie’s needs, but brother Clyde, an insulin-dependent diabetic, is also Rita-dependant. After suffering a stroke last year which affected his sight and hearing, he requires medical daily supervision.

“It’s an ordeal if I’ve got to be gone,” Richardson said. “He has an aide that helps, but family members have to take care of Clyde’s medication, including his insulin.”

Brother Kenneth, physically disabled due to back issues, bunks out at the house most of the time too.

“He helps out some when I have to be away,” Richardson said.

Brother William, Conway High School East History department chair and UCA adjunct professor, returns home on the weekends for church.

Their mother, who died in 1997, would be proud. “She always wanted us to do our best,” Richardson said. “She put a little competitive gene in each of us, too. And Mom was big on education. She wasn’t able to go past high school, but she wanted more for us.”

Richardson doesn’t dwell on “what-ifs,” but she regrets not having the opportunity to attend seminary due to family responsibilities.

“I do a lot of Bible study, read a lot and attend seminars and conferences as much as possible,” she said.

Richardson received training through her denomination prior to becoming licensed as a minister. She served Central Christian congregation for 13 years as a licensed minister before her ordination October 1, 2006.

Richardson is working on reducing her stress and is contemplating writing a book or giving seminars on stress management.

“My spiritual mentor told me it’s important to set boundaries and to take care of myself,” she said.

To alleviate the daily stress which piles up, Richardson can often be found playing the piano, a skill she learned as a child. She has even written a gospel song.

“Mother arranged for me to start taking piano lessons when I was seven, in part, because I was a bookworm. Now, music continues to be a big part of my life,” Richardson said. She has taught students and often plays background music for special events, billed as “Rhythms by Rita.” She is also church pianist and organist.

The tenacity of Richardson’s spirit reverberates throughout the community.

Richardson has served on several boards in town including the River Valley Shelter for Battered Women. She also represents her congregation in the Russellville Ministerial Alliance where she receives encouragement from others in the ministry.

“This town has changed a lot since I was a child,” she said. “It’s much more diverse, and I’m proud of that. The world would be a better place if people would love each other and get to know one another. Just get up and walk across the room, and you will be blessed abundantly.”

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