Jay M Richardson Life Story
Jay M Richardson was born Sep 18, 1931 in Virden, New Mexico to Ray and Verna Richardson. He was the 7th of 9 children and would comment that he had 3 twin brothers, which would confuse people, but in truth he did. He was the youngest of the second set of twin boys in the family. His twin brother’s name is Jorth, and Jorth and Jay’s father said that at the time they were born, he believed that twins had to share genes and so they were really only half a person and must be with their twin to be a complete person. Jay’s father learned that this, of course wasn’t true, but my dad loved his twin brother Jorth, and always felt more complete, confident and whole when with him.
Jay and Jorth were playmates and the best of friends growing up, and by all accounts had happy childhoods living on a farm in Western New Mexico. Jay was described as an obedient, cheerful child. He was a hard worker and could be counted on to do what he was assigned to do on the farm. His brother Bernard said that Jay always hoed the cleanest row, built the strongest fence, and marked off the straightest row. As Jorth described it, on the Richardson farm, they worked, but they enjoyed the work and enjoyed accomplishing things. Jay developed his life-long strong work ethic from those days on the farm.
My dad recounts being accident-prone as a boy. He had several instances of being run over by wagons and even almost trampled by runaway horses. Serious harm could have come in any of these instances, but he and his mother both had a strong testimony that he was protected and preserved to fulfill a greater calling.
Jay and his brothers certainly played a lot, too, and my dad recounts stories of great fun, fishing and swimming in water holes. They played together in the Richardson home and enjoyed one another. The Richardson boys in particular had a lot of fun playing basketball, the main sport they had there in Virden. I heard my Dad recount several times how much he enjoyed playing with his brothers, as well as the particular thrill of listening on the radio as his older brothers took their small high school team all the way to the state championship. Later, Jay also played on the high school team and helped the team win several tournaments. Later in life, my Dad still had 3-point range and could, on a dime, sink several free throws in a row. He also liked to show off his amazing left hookshot.
There was music in Jay’s home growing up. His mother brought music and refinement into the home and helped Jay develop his musical talents. He sang a strong baritone and harmonized beautifully with his brothers. He valued music throughout his life and sang in countless ward and stake choirs and encouraged his family to develop their musical talents.
Jay graduated from high school, valedictorian of his class, and received a scholarship to attend New Mexico Western College in Silver City, New Mexico. While in college, he recounts an episode of severe illness. He was able to receive a blessing from Spencer W. Kimball, who had been his stake president growing up and was now an apostle. That blessing restored him to health and was an important event to him. His testimony was strengthened by an apostle’s loving act of service. Jay’s mother noticed that Jay was a natural teacher and encouraged him to become a high school science teacher. He graduated from college, ready to become a teacher but this was the time of the Korean War and he was obligated to serve a 2-year tour in the army. He spent his time in Texas, and by virtue of his college degree, was assigned to serve as a dental assistant. He found he had an interest and capacity for dentistry and desired to go to dental school someday.
His army service complete and the government’s quota system satisfied, he was allowed to serve a mission. Jay was called to the Western States Mission, headquartered in Denver, Colorado. He had a special responsibility to work with and teach the Jewish people and also served as a Supervising Elder and Traveling Elder.
After his mission, preparing to go to Dental School, my Dad attended a dance at Mezona Dance Hall here in Mesa. He noticed a pretty dark-haired girl wearing a maroon plaid dress. Dad was shy, but he mustered enough courage to ask Lavona to dance and they discovered they were both twins. They dated through the summer and he sorrowed when he left in the fall to attend Northwestern Dental School in Chicago. He soon called up Lavona on a pay phone to propose to her. The proposal was interrupted several times by the phone asking for more money, but the point was made. They were married December 22, 1959 in the Mesa Arizona Temple and started their married life in Chicago. As he attended dental school, they started a family with three daughters, Miriam, Marlene and Rauna.
After finishing dental school, they moved to Lewisburg, PA for a year where Jay worked at the state penitentiary providing dental care for inmates there. They were glad to move back to Arizona and settled in Tempe, where Jay started a dental practice in Phoenix, moving it soon to a building he built on Southern Avenue in Tempe. The family continued to grow. Joann was born, making four girls in a row, followed by four boys in a row, Vernon, Ray, Kenneth and Donald. Donald, however, arrived earlier than expected and his lungs weren’t mature enough to survive. He died a few hours later. They were devastated and had a strong feeling that the family just wasn’t complete. They began to investigate adoption options and were thrilled to adopt a baby boy, Dale. Dale, however, was born with a diaphragmatic hernia and digestive problems. Despite round the clock feedings, he couldn’t eat, gain weight or grow and passed away only a few months old.
The passing of these two baby boys was a pivotal event for Jay and Lavona and their family. Their sorrow was eased by the knowledge that if we all lived righteously and worthy, we could be with these two boys again someday. This solidified the family goal: Each one of us live to be worthy to be an eternal family, together again with our brothers someday.
A few months after Dale’s death, they rejoiced when they soon had an opportunity to adopt a baby girl, Margie. Just 18 days later, Margie’s “almost twin,” Melvin, was born. The family was complete with the adoption of Dean and Amy.
My Dad would occasionally comment that he married a little late in life and that was the reason he never had much of a family. I think he did okay. Jay and Lavona had 13 children, and, at last count, 64 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Occasionally people would marvel at the size of the family, and Dad would just nod his head and with a twinkle in his eye, comment, “It’s a good start.” His family has been the primary focus of his life and he was a devoted husband and father through 51 years of marriage.
He loved Lavona and was completely dedicated and committed to her. He marveled at her abilities, her energy and her devotion. He made sure his children respected her, and he supported her and loved her. They enjoyed in particular spending time together serving missions together later in life and they truly loved being together.
He also loved his children; he cherished us, spoiled us, and made us each feel important. We have each commented over the past few days how we each felt that we were actually Dad’s favorite child. He made each of us feel like the favorite child! He encouraged us to excel in life, to set goals and work hard. My Dad’s great legacy is his family, his posterity which has gathered today to honor him.
Jay particularly loved babies and rejoiced with each new baby and grandbaby born. He delighted to hold them and welcome them to the family. As his own children grew and they started having families of their own, Jay loved to go visit them. He logged countless miles making overnight drives up to Provo, Utah to see his children going to BYU there and to see his grandbabies. Later, my mother worked for America West Airlines, giving them the ability to fly space available. They could fly just about anywhere around the world, but he really just used the privilege to visit his children and grandchildren scattered across the country, to see and play with his newest grandbaby and spend time with his family.
Jay was an accomplished dentist and was in practice for 40 years. He was skilled at his profession and was able to provide for his family through his work, but I think that he saw a higher purpose in dentistry. He truly wanted to help other people. He delighted in improving a patient’s smile and in effect helping them have better self-esteem. He took many courses over the years to train in orthodontics as a way to improve smiles and help people brighten up. He was able to help many people through dentistry and touch the lives of his patients and the office staff he worked with for those many years. He provided free or near-free care for literally hundreds of patients, especially missionaries and family members, and did great good through his dental service.
Jay was soft-spoken and quiet. He did have a subtle and gentle sense of humor that would reveal itself at the perfect moment, but in general was soft-spoken. I never heard him raise his voice in anger and never saw him lose control.
But though he was quiet, he found his voice in some way through his poetry. He started writing poetry in sixth grade and continued throughout his life. He discovered that through poetry, he could teach lessons and express his life’s sermons. He was a high councilor for many years and wrote a new poem for most of his monthly talks to emphasize the theme of the talk. He also wrote new poems each year for Christmas cards to send to friends and wrote poems as well to mark family events and milestones, as well as poems written personally to his children. Some favorite poems include “Marry Well,” “Burning Desire,” and “Be Clean.” Several of these poems were set to music and recorded professionally, in particular “Mary, Sweet Mary.” Many of his poems set to music were collected together for an Easter Cantata that was performed on the grounds of the Arizona Temple. These poems are a great treasure left to us by our dad and we continue to refer to them.
He was an educated man. He was well-read, and made himself into a polished speaker and writer. He edited several books, as well as countless high school essays and whatnot for his kids. He knew how to phrase things just right. There also seemed to be no math question beyond his ability, no science concept beyond his grasp, and he could explain them with clarity. He valued higher education and strongly encouraged his children to do well in school and go on to college and advanced degrees.
Jay was active and faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout his life and had a strong testimony of the gospel. He had many church callings over the years including service as a branch president, as a counselor in several bishoprics, on the stake high council and as stake mission president. His favorite calling was as a gospel doctrine teacher in the Tempe Fourth Ward and he thoroughly enjoyed studying and preparing for his lessons each week. He gladly served wherever called, but loved to teach, just as his mother had noticed many years earlier.
Just a few weeks after retiring from dentistry, Jay and Lavona went on a church mission to the Indonesia Jakarta Mission. They served a glorious mission. He taught at the dental school there and they were very active in the church’s Humanitarian activities such as distributing wheelchairs to young children who could not walk, sponsoring clean water projects for villages in rural Indonesia and serving in leadership callings in the small Mormon branch in Bogor. They did wonderful service there and changed people’s lives.
They had been home only 2 or 3 months when he felt the need to serve another mission as soon as possible. He was asked why he didn’t stay home for a while and enjoy retirement and he said he just felt an urgent need to serve again, particularly because the need for senior missionaries was so great. He and Lavona soon left for the Nauvoo Illinois Mission and served another glorious mission, doing much good there. He particularly enjoyed serving, living at and giving tours at the Carthage Jail. He also enjoyed working at the Nauvoo Temple.
Dad spent the last few years of his life struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and some other medical problems. Even as he lost his ability to talk and express himself, he remained gentle and kind, soft-mannered and loving. He was grateful to all those who came into his home to give him assistance and care. With his family gathered around him, he peacefully passed away at home on Memorial Day, May 30, 2011
We honor him and his life spent in the service of his family and his Heavenly Father. Dad, we’ll miss you, but all hope to be with you and our brothers in one eternal family someday.