Fort Worth

Fort Worth doctor who helped pass Safe Haven laws in Texas and nationwide dies at 88

Amon Carter Museum’s 50th Anniversary Gala Amon Carter Museum of American Art: April 30, 2011 L-R: Joan Richardson, John Richardson. ... Photographer: Sharon Corcoran
Amon Carter Museum’s 50th Anniversary Gala Amon Carter Museum of American Art: April 30, 2011 L-R: Joan Richardson, John Richardson. ... Photographer: Sharon Corcoran Special to the Star-Telegram

John Richardson was a pediatrician who practiced in the Fort Worth area for more than 40 years, and much more.

Dr. Richardson was an influencer for all the right reasons, his friends and family said.

Dr. Richardson, 88, died Monday, surrounded by family. He was born on Nov. 19, 1930, to Dr. James Joseph Richardson and Margaret Tidwell Richardson.

“He was an incredibly amazing person,” said Peggy Bohme, co-founder with Richardson of The Warm Place, an organization dedicated to providing support for children and families grieving the loss of a loved one. “If there was a need in the community, he found a way to make it happen.”

Dr. Richardson made fulfilling community needs part of his practice. Besides being a catalyst for The Warm Place, Dr. Richardson helped trigger the passage of safe haven laws in Texas and nationwide. The law, also known as the Baby Moses Project, makes it possible for new mothers without the resources to be parents to drop their baby at designated safe locations, such as fire department stations, without any negative legal consequences.

The Texas safe haven law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, has saved the lives of more than 4,000 children. Richardson came up with the idea for the law after one sleepless night, Bohme said.

“I asked him what the problem was and he replied, ‘We found another baby in a dumpster,’” she said. “He followed his heart and it was never wrong. He loved what he did and he was always right.”

The idea for The Warm Place grew from another tragedy, the cancer death of Bohme’s son, Michael, at 14, Bohme said. Her daughter said she had been teased by other children at school because of her brother’s death and that was followed by headaches and stomachaches, which made it hard for her to concentrate, Bohme said.

Dr. Richardson helped the family personally and worked to bring board members from Cook Children’s Medical Center to a presentation where he pitched the idea that eventually grew into the organization.

“The groups were small when we first started,” Bohme said. “We opened in a prairie house that Ginger Rogers grew up in on Aug. 24, 1989. Two months into the program we had a waiting list and had to train more volunteers. That’s how we knew it was successful.”

Dr. Richardson referred his own patients to the program, Bohme said. Since its inception, The Warm Place has helped more than 38,000 families.

“John was a man you would call with a problem and he would have an answer, and the questions were not always just about children,” she said. “He had a innate ability to help. It was very natural for him. It was part of who he was.”

Setting an example

Dr. Richardson made house calls and his patients had his home phone number, said his daughter, Marian Richardson, 62. Marian Richardson, a nurse, said the children learned early to take detailed messages from patients to pass along to their father. After he came home Dr. Richardson would answer the telephone himself, Marian Richardson said.

“He was so calm and kind,” Marian Richardson said. “You always felt safe with him. If you had any kind of problem, you knew he would be there to help you figure out your next step. I never heard my father raise his voice and I never heard him swear. He could correct you with a look. He had high expectations but he wasn’t demanding. He always wanted you to do your best and he would give you the tools to do that. He exposed us to a lot of opportunities to give.”

Every vacation was an education opportunity, said Dr. Richardson’s son, John Richardson Jr., 57.

“Even though we didn’t know it, we would always learn something on the vacations that we took,” he said. “We would go in the station wagon.”

Dr. Richardson worked seven days a week and had clinic on Saturday morning, John Richardson Jr. said. Marian Richardson became a nurse because of the example her father set.

“You knew he was involved in everything that we had going on,” John Richardson Jr. said. “I was a baseball player and he would work for 12 hours and then he would go out and play catch with me without even sitting down.”

Leaving a legacy

Dr. Richardson was a 1948 graduate of R. L. Paschal High School, where he met his future wife, Joan Webb. He served in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman. After the Navy, Dr. Richardson graduated from Texas Wesleyan College, earned his medical degree from the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Branch, and completed his pediatric residency at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.

Dr. Richardson served as the medical director for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Lena Pope Home, and St. Andrew’s Catholic School and served on the board of directors of Cook Children’s Medical Center, the Fort Worth Zoo Association, the Alliance for Children, Gill Children’s Services, and the Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth.

He also received the Gold Headed Cane Award and the Humanitarian Award from the Tarrant County Medical Society, the Golden Deeds Award, Fort Worth’s Outstanding Citizen from the Exchange Club, and the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award, for his humanitarian and medical work.

Dr. Richardson was also the pediatrician for the Edna Gladney Home for 29 years, participating in approximately 9,000 adoptions. He also co-founded the Key School for children with learning differences.

“The Gladney Center for Adoption was very sad to learn of the passing of Dr. Richardson,” the center said in an emailed statement. “He worked tirelessly for our mission for many, many years. His reputation, his kind and loving heart and his legacy will continue to live on by all the Gladney babies and families he helped. Dr. Richardson will live on in our mission of creating bright futures through adoption. We are grateful for his work.”

Dr. Richardson was preceded in death by his wife, Joan, and his two sisters, Mary Helen and Peggy, and three brothers, Joe, Dick, and Bob. His body will lie in state at Thompson’s Harveson and Cole Funeral Home until noon on Friday.

A Service of Remembrance will be at Broadway Baptist Church at 4:30 p.m. Friday with funeral services at St. Andrew Catholic Church at 1 p.m. Saturday. Burial will be at Greenwood Memorial Park.

Dr. Richardson’s family asks that contributions be made to Key School Planting Seeds Capital Campaign in support of the Key Center for Learning Differences, John M. Richardson Campus, 3947 E Loop 820 S., 76119, KCLD.org ; The WARM Place, 809 Lipscomb St., Fort Worth, Texas 76104, and Catholic Charities for Fort Worth, P.O. Box 15610, Fort Worth, Texas 76119.

A White Settlement family talks about the odyssey of adopting a their son from China, and how he's changed their life's mission. (Video by Joyce Marshall, Star-Telegram.com)

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.


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