By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A tireless volunteer who served those experiencing homelessness was recently named as the inaugural recipient of the Laguna Beach Interfaith Council’s “Contributions of a Spiritual Dimension” award.
Ann Caroline Grover Richardson—who passed away on Oct. 30, 2018 at the age of 81—is described by her family as a fearless peacemaker who cared deeply about society’s least fortunate members. Ann was one of the volunteers who came to the aid of Laguna Beach families who lost their homes in the 1993 wildfire and helped start the resource center that was the precursor to a cold-weather shelter and later the Friendship Shelter.
Ann’s husband of 58 years, John Richardson, said he was grateful for the Interfaith Council’s decision to honor her legacy more than a year after her death.
“It’s a public recognition of the example that Ann set of helping people in our community whose means are so minimal but needs are so extensive,” John said.
The Interfaith Council decided to start a Laguna Beach version of the Templeton Prize, an award that recognizes individuals’ exceptional contributions to affirming spirituality’s role in scientific discovery. The prize will be awarded at the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at 4 p.m. on Nov. 24 at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church.
Beth Garlock, co-chair of the Interfaith Council, said Ann was chosen as the inaugural recipient because of her mission of outreach and love in Laguna.
“She became a member of the Interfaith Council and was the catalyst behind the daily feeding of the homeless at the ASL in the canyon,” Garlock said. “She coordinated efforts between all of our various faith groups and churches in providing meals each night, and this effort has been ongoing now for well over 10 years.”
Garlock said Ann would single-handedly gather those who needed overnight shelter from rain into the overflow facilities at various local churches. “It was not uncommon to see Ann out in the rain posting the sign that said the shelter would be open that particular night. She also would carry the sleeping pads from place to place and launder the blankets after each night’s stay.”
“She was known around Laguna as ‘Saint Ann’ due to her Christlike service to all,” Garlock said. “She knew many by name and also knew of their particular challenges or struggles. She would provide relief and support to the needy, downtrodden and those who are suffering. She connected those of other faiths and beliefs and felt all were equal in the sight of God.”
Ann Richardson was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and moved to California to become an elementary school teacher after graduating from Miami University. She and John met while living on Balboa Island. They married in 1960.
John recalled flying back to the East Coast to meet his in-laws for the first time. His future father-in-law summed up what he was in for: “what you need to understand about our Annie is she knows what she wants and will find a way to get it.”
“That’s certainly the way she has been as long as I’ve known her,” John added.
The Richardsons raised their children—Sue Coe, Peter Richardson, and Carrie Hall—in Redlands and Upland. They moved to Laguna Beach in 1997.
Since her arrival in Laguna Beach, Ann was a fixture at public gatherings—usually armed with a clipboard—signing up fellow residents to volunteer for one cause or another, family members said.
“She never wanted [material] things,” Coe said. “She was extremely persistent in helping other people meet their needs.”
The Richardsons annually hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless at Heisler Park. Ann also hired homeless individuals to jobs for her family over the years, including paying a homeless man to take their family photo, Hall said.
She also helped start the Real Talk civic discussion series to empower neighbors on differing sides of hot political issues to civilly talk with each other.
“She had an ability to find common ground with people whose opinions and beliefs were different from hers,” John said.
This unending desire to help others, without desire or expectation of accolades, probably stemmed in part from the family’s faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hall said.
Peter Richardson said he hopes people who learn about his mom because of the award will be inspired to find common ground rather than focus on the things that divide them.
Hall added that her mother’s selfless nature is an example for others to help the least privileged in our communities.
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