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Rosalind and Jerry Richardson

Rosalind Sallenger Richardson

On life, love, art and the ride of a lifetime

She picked him up the day they met.

Their love story began on a dirt road called Hazard Street. But, according to Rosalind Sallenger Richardson, their life together has been anything but a hazard.

“It has just been the best thing that ever happened to me, and Jerry has said it has been the best thing that ever happened to him. So that’s the way it is.”

It was summer in the late 1950s. Rosalind Sallenger, a student at the all-female Winthrop College, was vacationing at Pawleys Island with her family. Jerry Richardson ’59 was also at Pawleys Island with friends from his Wofford College fraternity. It was one of the first summer trips with the brothers of Kappa Alpha Order Mr. Richardson had been able to make; for the first time, work and football practice had not interfered with vacation plans.

Mrs. Richardson and her best high school girlfriend, Bunny Schipman, were driving down Hazard Street when they came across four young men with thumbs out. Schipman and Mrs. Richardson instantly recognized the men as Wofford students and decided to give them a ride.

“I was in the front middle seat, and Jerry was in the back middle seat. There were no seatbelts, and you could sit anywhere you wanted, so I turned around with my back to the front of the car, and I talked to all of them and just had a wonderful time… I really majored in having a wonderful time. That was my main and best class,” laughs Mrs. Richardson.

The group reached their destination — a party hosted by Converse College women. Everyone went inside, but Mr. Richardson wanted to stay and talk to the pretty woman in the front middle seat. So they stayed in the car together and talked, and after a long conversation, he asked her to go on a date with him that very night.According to Mrs. Richardson, the conversation went something like this:

Rosalind: No, I can’t go out with you tonight. I just met you!
Jerry: I really am a nice person.
Rosalind: I have never met you before, and I don’t know anything about you.
Jerry: Well, if you will just get out of this car and come in this house with me, I have friends in there, and they will tell you that I’m nice, and you will be perfectly safe going out with me.

After about 30 minutes of haggling, they decided to go on a triple date with two other couples — putt-putt golf at Myrtle Beach. To this day they disagree on who won the miniature golf game. He says she beat him; she says he beat her. They agreed to keep seeing each other, often going on dates in Charlotte, N.C., the city that eventually would become their home. A movie at the Carolina Theatre and dinner at The Open Kitchen Restaurant was a favorite dating activity. 

“We would order one pizza and one beer, and we would split the pizza and the beer because we didn’t have any money. And we would sit in the same corner booth, side by side, and just get as close as we could. It was just wonderful,” says Mrs. Richardson.

A year later, Jerry Richardson proposed to Rosalind Sallenger the same way he met her — in a car on a dirt road.

“I said yes right away,” says Mrs. Richardson. “I was in such a hurry to say yes because I knew the next year I had to take algebra. And when he asked, I said, ‘Absolutely I will marry you! I am so excited I am not going to have to take algebra next year!’” 

The love story that epitomized the beginning of their relationship has continued through a lifetime of three children, nine grandchildren and many long and close friendships. To this day, Mrs. Richardson remains close to the girlfriends she made in her Florence, S.C., kindergarten class, and each year Mr. Richardson spends time with the close Fayetteville, N.C., friends he made in grammar school through high school. True friendship is important to both of the Richardsons, a sentiment Mrs. Richardson shares when asked what advice she would give to Wofford students. “I would tell them to really enjoy themselves while they are in school, make good friends, and try and keep up with them,” she says. “Pick good friends — that’s so important.”

On Oct. 21, 2014, a new chapter was written in their love story — the announcement that Mr. Richardson provided the gift to build Wofford College’s first arts building, named in honor of his wife. “It has been my good fortune that Rosalind agreed to marry me many years ago,” Mr. Richardson says of the gift. “It gives me great pleasure to honor my wife with the naming of this facility dedicated to the arts on the Wofford campus, my alma mater. Rosalind’s love of art and our love of Wofford are a perfect match in making this vision for the college a reality.”

“I was so surprised when Jerry announced that he was going to build a building with my name on it. … I just couldn’t get over it,” says Mrs. Richardson. During the campus announcement, Mrs. Richardson tenderly patted Mr. Richardson on the knee. Of that moment she says, “I thought he was just so wonderful. How did he ever think to name something for me? It was just such a shock… a very wonderful moment in my life.”

A building that houses Wofford’s departments of art and art history and theatre, along with state-of-the-art spaces for instruction, performances and exhibits, is the perfect compliment to its namesake, a woman to whom art and creativity are important. “We are all creative in our family,” says Mrs. Richardson. “Everybody can do different things, and it’s so exciting to see what people come up with. Our family has all different types of interests, but I think the main thing that we all have is a love for this beautiful earth, its flowers, its trees and each other.” 

Mrs. Richardson’s love of nature shines in the red, gold and yellow colors of Chihuly sculptures that grace the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, colors by request of Mrs. Richardson to reflect those of the leaves of the ginkgo and other trees changing colors in the fall. 

In addition to fall colors, it’s no surprise what other colors Mrs. Richardson enjoys. “I like Panthers colors,” she says. “I think the shades of blue that I see in sports are beautiful.

“And black and gold, for sure,” she quickly adds.

Mrs. Richardson finds the bold work of Georgia O’Keeffe breathtaking, and she enjoys creating her own work. She started taking lessons in charcoal and throughout the years has worked in acrylic, oil, screen-printing, woodcutting and pottery. She gives her art to her children and grandchildren, and makes each of them a unique, handcrafted pottery ornament every Christmas. 

Sports are another passion of Mrs. Richardson, however, the first lady of football’s love for athletics began long before she met Mr. Richardson. “In the neighborhood we played whatever sport was going on in the leagues,” she says. “If it was baseball, we played baseball… if it was football, we played football, both boys and girls. My father made us a basketball court in the backyard by putting baskets on two pine trees so we would have the full court. The only problem was that as the trees grew, the baskets got higher!”

While it held no interest to her three sisters, as a young girl Mrs. Richardson would watch football on the snowy black-and-white television each Sunday after church with her father, Ed. “We would sit right there and watch football together, and he would explain everything to me,” she says. “I did not realize at the time that my life would always be surrounded by sports.” In high school Mrs. Richardson played sports as electives, including basketball, tennis and cheerleading.

On the adventure of her life she has shared with her husband, Mrs. Richardson imparts the simple secret to a happy marriage: just try to not irritate the other person. “If there’s something you know that irritates them, just don’t do it,” she says.

“From the time I met Jerry Richardson, life has been exciting,” says Mrs. Richardson. “Jerry has led an exciting life, and I am so happy that I was the one who got to go along for the ride. And it has been a great ride, and we try and take care of each other, and we just make things fun.”

by Annie S. Mitchell