Dr. Mary Richards
Dr. Mary Richards

My friend and partner in the Taekwondo school is dying. Dr. Mary
Richards was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital on November 17. She is
a tough lady, a fighter for sure. But it looks like she is not going to win this

She may already be gone as I write this.

I don’t know how old she was when she started TKD, in her 50’s perhaps? She had no flexibility and was not very graceful. But she had a single minded determination and I’m telling you she would flatten your butt and run over you
if you got in her way. I learned the hard way that I couldn’t trade blows with her. I’d throw a kick, she would step in on it, and I would get knocked on my ass.

I used to call her the Tank. The name fit her physically and it also described her personality, especially if you were trying to spar her. She’d grin really big when I called her that.

One of the greatest things I ever saw happened in class one night. It was before I bought the school, and Marcus Turley was the instructor. We were practicing board breaking for testing, the required technique was a jump front kick. I’m the first to admit that I really really suck at jumping. But Mary would be the first to tell you that
she sucked more at jumping than I did. So I was standing there watching to see how she did. Remember her nickname was Tank.

Anyway, I was standing behind her as she set up to do the technique, Turley holding the boards. She got into position, hopped a little and hit the boards with the ball of her foot. Well she kinda hit the
boards, and kinda slid right up them. And her foot just kept going up and the rest of her followed.

The next thing I knew she had tucked herself into a tight ball and done a backwards roll. She rolled on over, stood up, standing and facing those boards in a fighting stance.

Turley’s mouth dropped open and his eyes were bugging out of his head.

I was speechless and I’m sure my eyes were bugging too.

After a shocked silence Turley said “Doc, are you all right?”

“Sure” she replied “let me try that again”

Age and injuries kept her away from Taekwondo and her beloved white water rafting. She used to tell me about rafting the Grand Canyon. Before we moved to Colorado I went by her office to visit. She had rafted the Royal Gorge, which is right by our house. I always hoped she would make it out here to raft with us.

Mary was Charles’ cardiologist. She was the first person I called when I took him to the hospital and they told me it was a heart attack. She was the first person I called many times after that. I’d like to say that she took special care of him because we were friends and partners. But that wasn’t the case. She took special care of all of her patients. I have heard from quite a few of them about their affection for the gruff lady.

Every few months I’d get a call. She had found someone who she felt needed Taekwondo. I was to call them, tell them there was no charge, and get them enrolled. We had some pretty special people at our school because
Mary sent them our way.

Her work as a doctor touched many in a very direct way. She literally saved hundreds if not thousands of lives during her long career. She didn’t have a lot of charisma or charm, she could be cranky and impatient. But she was smart, caring, steadfast and loyal. And you knew without a doubt that she was on your side.

If the measure of a life is by how many people are touched, Mary Richards had a giant life. Little Rock Taekwondo would not have survived without her financial backing and support. She never received any financial reward from her investment. Many people whose lives were changed never knew that Mary Richards was in the background. But I know the stories of the lives we touched meant the world to her.

I’d see her wipe a tear as I told her about the grandfather struggling to stay alive a few more years so he could
raise his grandson. The mother who was raising her son alone and had a diagnosis of breast, then bone cancer. We cried together over the death of Michael Coon, who was accidentally shot by one of his friends. So many stories, so much caring on her part that no one ever saw.

Mary Richards led a quiet life. She didn’t care about houses and cars, jewelry and sparkle. She cared about people. And in her unique way, she led a giant life.


My friend and instructor Jim Robinson tested for his 7th Dan in July. The testing was in Memphis, and there was no way I could be there. When our mutual friend Diana Hampo told me she was putting together a celebration party for Jim, I suggested that she compile a book of letters and photos from his friends and students.

There are people in our lives that make a difference. They challenge you, push you, force you outside your comfort zone. We may not realize it at the time, but they are part of the fabric of who we are and who we become. Jim Robinson is one of those people in my life. My challenge to you, dear reader, is to reflect on those people in your life that made a difference, and let them know. A phone call, a letter, an email, it doesn’t matter. Don’t take them for granted,or think that they must know how you feel. Tell them!

This is my letter.

It’s not often that we have an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to us. I’ve been guilty of telling others of your impact on my life, but I never told you.
You were my first instructor. You were the person that challenged me to do that which I thought was impossible. You were stingy with your praise, generous with your criticism. You lit a spark inside me that is still alive 35 years later.
I remember you trying to teach me new techniques. Smiling at my ineptness and shaking your head, walking away. All that did was motivate me to try harder. It never was the trophies that motivated me to compete. It never was the color of the belt that motivated me to test. It was your approval that mattered to me.
You taught me to never, ever quit. You taught me to set an example for lower ranks. To be stronger, tougher, and never stop if anyone else in that room was still going.
Remember that attitude instructors had? Not only did your students believe you could walk on water, you did too. You were so darn arrogant.
I remember the trip to Lansing, Michigan in 1977 or 1978 to compete in Nationals. A group of us borrowed Ron Turchi’s van and made the drive. There is no way to describe the pride we felt when we watched you compete. The fierceness of your techniques, the way you could side kick straight up in the air, and hold it.
You weren’t the biggest guy in the ring when it came to sparring, but by golly your opponents knew they had been in a fight when you got done with them.
I’d never gotten rid of that martial arts spark. I bought the school that you taught me in. Your spirit was all through that school. I found myself using the phrases you had used with me when teaching. “The reason you twist your wrist when you punch is because it takes less effort to twist a screw into wood than hammer a nail.”
We had lost contact, so it was surreal for me that day you walked in the door, the first time I’d seen you in twenty years. Those visits to the school, the phone calls, you working out with us in class, meant so much to me.
My sister Tracey and I sat on the floor and watched you compete a couple of years ago. She looked at me and said “It’s like old times again, isn’t it? Watching him compete. Being proud to be his student.”
I watched you test in Dallas for your 5th. Remember working on yourself defense demonstration? The cowboy hat?
And full circle for me. I tested for my 5th in December of 2009. You were on the panel. What a very special honor for me, to have my friend and instructor still a part of my life. Over thirty years Jim.
The influence I had, the lives I changed, were because of you. The ripple of your influence spread out over and over throughout the years. I’m just one. I wonder how many of your former students are out there, proud of what they accomplished because of your tutelage.
I’m sorry I could not be there to see you test. But know that I was smiling when I saw the pictures. And if I could be there now, there would be a big hug for my instructor and friend. Love you Jim.