Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stephen Richardson remembered

BRIDGEPORT — Ina Jackson is no different from any grandmother.

She talks proudly about all her grandchildren.

There's granddaughter Georgia Lyde of Maryland, and her husband who served as nurses with American forces in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm.

There's 7-year-old Stephon Mowatt, who she said is an A student.

And there's Stephen Ron O'Neil Karl Richardson, who on Tuesday gave his life for what Jackson hopes will be a safer America and a new Iraq.

"He was so upset with what happened on 9/11," Jackson said of her 22-year-old grandson, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, who lived several years in Bridgeport before joining the Army. His unit was based at Fort Riley in Kansas.

"He wanted to be part of America's protection. He wanted to help resolve the problems in Iraq," Jackson said.

Unfortunately, Richardson never really got the chance.

The private first class and his sergeant, Wayne R. Cornell, 26, of Holstein, Neb., were killed when an insurgent's bomb exploded near their vehicle during combat operations Tuesday in Baghdad.

Both served with the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which has U.S. headquarters at Fort Riley.

Richardson is the 38th person with Connecticut ties who has died since March 2002 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A personal profile attributed to Richardson and posted on the Internet site,, states that he "is a proud new daddy to my daughter, Iyana.

"I'm still just a kid at heart. I like to watch cartoons and play video games," he wrote. "I'm just a very laid back guy who takes the time to appreciate the small things in life."
Richardson last logged onto his myspace page Tuesday — the day he died.

In addition to his grandmother, Richardson leaves a pregnant wife and a daughter, Iyana, both in Kansas; his father, Cedric Richardson, also a Bridgeport resident; his mother, Jacqueline Hamilton-Carby, of Jamaica, and a half-brother in Canada. His funeral is expected to take place March 31 in St. Mary, Jamaica.

Jackson worries about how she will get there.

"My passport has expired," said the grandmother who has lived in Bridgeport for 16 years. "My son called [U.S. Rep.] Christopher Shays to see if he could do something. I need to see Stephen one last time."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered American and Connecticut flags lowered to half-staff as a tribute to Richardson.

"Private Richardson and thousands upon thousands of brave men and women like him serve our nation every day," the governor said. "Our gratitude runs deep especially when a young life is ended so soon. On behalf of all of Connecticut, I extend condolences and prayers for comfort to his family — here in Connecticut; his wife and daughter in Kansas and his relatives in Jamaica."

Mayor John M. Fabrizi also ordered the city's flags to be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day Richardson is buried.

"Every time we lose a soldier in combat it's heartbreaking," Fabrizi said, "but even more so when it's one of your own and when it is someone so young. Private Richardson has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for that we are humbled and deeply grateful."

"He was only 22, just a baby," said Jackson, fighting back tears as she tried to remember happier days.

Like the first time she saw Stephen.

"He was living with his mother in Jamaica," Jackson said. "He was her only child and she kept him close to her. He already was a teenager when he came here."

So, Jackson said, Stephen was not one she could take to Beardsley Zoo like her other grandchildren.

Instead, they would garden, planting and weeding flowers in front of her Park Avenue home, and planting tomatoes, spinach and string beans in the backyard.

They would also cook together — curry chicken, oxtail and fried dumplings.

Was he a good cook?

"Not really," laughed Jackson. "He'd tell me if it was going to take too long, he'd send out for Chinese."

But to Jackson, Richardson was just "a big teddy bear."

"He was so handsome, so nice & he was one kid you loved to have around," she said. "I didn't want him out of my sight."

Richardson lived with Jackson and his father, Cedric, in the stately three-family Park Avenue home for a few years. However, he spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to Jamaica to visit his mother, before settling with his father in homes on Main Street and Noble Avenue.

In October 1999, he enrolled at Bassick High School as a sophomore, according to school records.

He returned in the fall of 2000 as a junior, but left for Jamaica three weeks into the academic year.

"That's the last contact he had with Bassick High School," said Ronald Remy, the school's principal. School officials say students at Bassick plan a moment of silence in memory of Richardson.

Supt. of Schools John Ramos, in a written statement, said that regardless of how long Richardson had been a student in the Bridgeport public schools, "He was one of our students and we have experienced a loss." Richard attended the University of Bridgeport as a freshman in the fall of 2004.

Edward Geist, a UB associate professor of English, served as Richardson's academic adviser.

"He was older than my other students," said Geist, who taught Richardson in a literature course focusing on the plays of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and August Wilson.

"He took the work more seriously and was a pleasure to have in class," Geist said. At UB, Richardson garnered A's and B's in literature, English composition, algebra and accounting.

"I remember a composition he wrote for a placement test," Geist said. "We asked the students to write about the career path they were planning to pursue and what motivated them — money, a desire to help others or something else."

Geist said Richardson discussed establishing a business in Jamaica that would help improve conditions in that impoverished Caribbean nation.

"It was much more reflective and serious than what we normally get," said Geist, who has taught at UB since 1986.

The educator worked with Richardson in selecting classes for the spring 2005 semester. He was enrolled in business statistics, accounting, art history, a seminar and introduction to social science.

But Geist said Richardson contacted the school Feb. 16, 2005, and said something came up and he wouldn't be registering for those courses after all.

"That's the last I heard about him until today," Geist said.

Not long after that, Richardson enlisted in the Army.

"He loved the uniform," said his grandmother. "Especially the camouflage one. He was here recruiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, wearing it while he talked to kids."

On Feb. 5, 2006, Richardson was deployed to Iraq.

"It's always hard when you hear something awful has happened to one of your students," Geist said. "You see them almost every day and they are so alive. They have their whole life ahead of them. Then it's taken away. For any teacher news like this is so unsettling."

In Jamaica, Hamilton-Carby, Richardson's mother, was still tossing and turning, unable to sleep early Tuesday morning.

So at 4 a.m., she told The Jamaica Observer that she sat down and penned her son the following letter:

"It has been 43 days, that is 1,032 hours or 61,920 minutes, better yet 3,715,200 seconds, since I heard your voice. That is a long, l-o-n-g time but whereas I was worried before, I have placed you in the hand of God."

The letter never was mailed.

Instead came news of her only child's death.

"I am not angry with the U.S. Army. I am not angry with Mr. George W. Bush. I'm not angry with anyone," Hamilton-Carby told The Jamaica Observer. "He chose to go there & I just view it as the work of God."

"She is a Christian," said Jackson, who has spoken several times with Hamilton-Carby since Richardson's death. "Her view is to live every day like it's your last. You will see today, but you may not see tomorrow."

Jackson pauses as the memories float back.

She sees Richardson lying near the TV, his fingers quickly working the triggers on a control panel as video game figures on the screen rapidly move.

She sees him on all fours, giving 7-year-old Stephon a pony ride around her apartment.

And now she fears the youngster will suffer nightmares and problems at school as he tries to cope with the loss of his best friend and older cousin.

And the grandmother's tears flow.

"He's gone. He's gone," she sobs. "That's not supposed to happen. I never got to see his baby."

From the Post

Related Link:
Stephen K. Richardson dies of injuries from I.E.D.