Quiet philanthropist, skilled businesswoman, and community volunteer, Kathleen Richardson was instrumental in both the success of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, other arts and heritage organizations and individuals, and of the company named after her great-grandfather.
Richardson died on Saturday. She was 91.
Carolyn Hursh, Richardson’s niece and the chairwoman of James Richardson and Sons, Ltd., said her aunt "was a remarkable and unique woman.
"She was a ‘doer’," Hursh said on Monday. "She was never involved in name only. She was actively engaged with every organization she worked with or board she served on.
"She believed strongly in the words often quoted by her mother: "Unto whom much is given, much is also required."
“She believed strongly in the words often quoted by her mother: “Unto whom much is given, much is also required.” -Carolyn Hursh
Hursh, noting her aunt was a company director who also served on the boards of Sun Life Assurance, Barclays Bank, and Gulf Canada at a time when it was still uncommon for women to sit on corporate boards, said "she was intelligent and not afraid to speak up.
"I’m sure she added value to the decisions made and, in doing so, she would have helped blaze the trail for more women to become directors. Kathleen was a role model for other women. She was always true to herself.
"She brought a woman’s perspective to the boardroom table."
Richardson’s death is the end of a chapter for a storied local family. She was the last of the powerful generation of siblings whose parents were James A. Richardson, who Winnipeg’s airport is named after, and mother Muriel, who was president of the company for 27 years after her husband suddenly died in 1939.
Born Kathleen Margaret Richardson on May 5, 1928, she was the youngest of four siblings. She attended Riverbend School, Bishop Strachan School, and then the University of Manitoba where she graduated with a BA in 1949.
Her brother, George, later served as president of James Richardson and Sons for 27 years, her brother, James, served as a Liberal cabinet minister under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and her sister, Agnes Benidickson, became the first woman to be chancellor at Queen’s University from 1980 to 1996.
Richardson herself served on the company’s board from 1954 to 1998, before being named director emeritus when she retired. The company credits her in a statement as making "outstanding contributions to the firm, most notably guiding the expansion of Pioneer Grain, the development of Lombard Place, which includes the Richardson Building and The Fairmont Winnipeg, as well as providing sound governance during the growth of the firm’s financial services operation into an international brokerage."
She was made an officer and then a companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank possible, as well as a member of the Order of Manitoba.
Premier Brian Pallister said in a statement, "Miss Richardson has left an indelible mark on Manitoba, not only for her efforts as a business leader, philanthropist and community volunteer, but also as a true champion of the arts."
Mayor Brian Bowman said he was personally saddened to learn of Richardson’s death.
"My thoughts are with the Richardson family during this difficult time and all those Winnipeggers who were touched by her generosity."
Andre Lewis, artistic director and CEO of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, said Richardson "had such a huge footprint on the organization."
Richardson served as president of the RWB from 1957 to 1961, and honorary president until her death. She also chaired the fundraising campaign for the RWB’s permanent home and school on Graham Avenue.
Lewis said for the last two decades he had dinner with Richardson once every three months, to bring her up to date on the RWB, and to listen to her advice.
"She was an admirable person and she was such a humble person," he said. "I just feel very fortunate I could call on her, be with her, and be touched by her generosity — I had her support."
Lewis said while he can’t say exactly what the RWB would look like today if Richardson had not been there to help it, both with timely advice and donations, he has an idea.
"There would be something, but not at the level it is now. It wouldn’t be at the international level it is. We wouldn’t have this facility (school and headquarters).
"She believed arts is an essential part of the fabric of our society... and what I loved about her was she was always devoted to her family, her friends, and her beloved arts community."
RWB chair emeritus Jean Giguère said Richardson "didn’t just give, she gave her spirit.
"She was a role model of grace and wisdom — and she had such a great sense of humour. I’m just going to miss her terribly."
Richardson also served on the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s board of governors from 1983 to 1991, and was a past chairwoman.
“She wanted to help in a meaningful way. We benefited greatly from her gifts, but also her wisdom and advice." -Stephen Borys
Stephen Borys, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s director and CEO, said the museum didn’t just benefit from the anonymous donations by Richardson.
"She had a keen eye as a connoisseur — she wasn’t just handing us money," Borys said. "She wanted to help in a meaningful way. We benefited greatly from her gifts, but also her wisdom and advice.
"There are many works here because of her and, while several others give us works and want to remain anonymous, her donations all say anonymous donor."
Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said Richardson was the driving force behind the restoration of Dalnavert.
"Dalnavert was definitely her baby," Tugwell said. " She started it. Back then it was an old rooming house in desperate need of furnishings and rehabilitation. She went to Europe and got designs from pictures for the furnishings.
"When you’re the impetus, you’re the actual first piece that’s needed... this city has lost a huge community member."
Doneta Brotchie, chairwoman of The Winnipeg Foundation board, said "Kathleen Richardson was the epitome of a community leader.
"She was so supportive of the arts and culture in our city, and many other areas as well. I was honoured to know her and to see her as a wonderfully generous and gracious person."
Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson, who is the province’s justice minister, said Richardson was an inspiration for her and she met with her many times.
"Like many who knew her I was saddened to hear of Kathleen’s passing," Stefanson said in a statement. "She was a true trailblazer and an inspiration to me, as she was for so many women in politics, business, and philanthropy.
"She will be missed deeply by the city and province she loved and gave so much to. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family."
But beyond all the public accomplishments by the woman who was known for giving anonymous financial gifts, Hursh said her aunt was "the Master of Fun and we all adored her.
"Dinner, it was always a formal event, but after dinner, Aunt Kathleen would take her nephews and nieces to another part of the house where she would have an assortment of games for us to play.
“Kathleen Richardson was the epitome of a community leader... She was so supportive of the arts and culture in our city, and many other areas as well." -Doneta Brotchie
"Kathleen was a storyteller and she could regale us with wild and wonderful tales. Even the simplest event could be transformed into something magical."
Richardson is survived by 12 nieces and nephews. A public celebration of her life will be held on a date to be determined.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Monday, September 16, 2019 at 12:53 PM CDT: Updated, byline added.
6:16 PM: Adds full story.