The Philanthropy Roundtable mourns the passing of Randolph Richardson—a decorated WWII veteran, serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, and patriot dedicated to strengthening liberty at home and abroad.
In 1944, right out of high school, Richardson joined General Patton’s Third Army. Serving as a rifleman, machine gunner, mortar gunner, interpreter, and squad leader, he was among the grunts who turned the tide of the German offensive and won the Battle of the Bulge, suffering frostbite in the process. At one point he delivered a baby in the combat theater, though his entire knowledge of obstetrics, all gleaned from movies, was that he had to boil water. Mother and child survived. Boiling came in handy when he found he could cook “liberated” chicken in his steel helmet—until the black scorch marks on his winter-white headgear earned him the wrath of his sergeant.
After the German surrender, Richardson’s unit helped block Soviet advances in Czechoslovakia, an experience which would shape his future anti-communist views. He witnessed Soviet trucks shooting down “defectors” on roads teaming with traumatized refugees. To force entry into the American sector during these persecutions Soviet soldiers would fire warnings at American sentries. Richardson’s commander ended that practice by standing sentry duty himself without insignia. As some Russians were about to loose a burst of bullets around his feet, the officer pointed out hidden howitzers targeting the Soviet trucks and threated to blow them off the road. The lives of many refugees were saved that day and Richardson learned a lesson about what it takes to stop thuggery that he would never forget.
Having helped liberate Western Europe, liberating Eastern Europe now became his new mission. But he would do so by way of returning home, getting his education, and pursuing various business ventures. His growing interest in ideas and intellectual and political movements was reflected in his co-founding, in 1964, of the Conservative Book Club.
As head of the Smith Richardson Foundation from 1973 to 1993, he strategically seeded funding to free market, pro-democratic, and anti-communist efforts at home and abroad. His foundation assisted Eastern European dissidents including the Andrei Sakharov family, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's wife, the Czech-born playwright Tom Stoppard, and leaders of Poland’s Solidarity movement.
Under Richardson’s direction, the foundation supported think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and academic programs like the Federalist Society, the Law and Economics Center, the National Humanities Center, and courses on governance and policy at Harvard.
Having co-founded a television syndication company in the 1960s, Richardson knew the importance of the media. He encouraged the free exchange of information in repressive societies by supporting Radio Marti broadcasts into Cuba, funding transmission towers and programming for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, even supporting bodyguards and a bullet-proof car for Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto when his prescription of market liberalizations for poor countries brought him death threats.
At home, he guided Smith Richardson to support publications like the Public Interest, the American Spectator, the National Interest, and the New Criterion, as well as books such as Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Dictatorships and Double Standards, George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty, Jude Wanninski’s The Way the World Works, Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, and early research by economist Michael Boskin. His foundation contributed to television productions like Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.”
Randy Richardson also gave money and time to disease research, to parks, and to local institutions. He loved boating, and built several vessels with his children, who survive him: Heather Higgins, Rod Richardson, and Catharine Macdonald. The bemedaled G.I. passed away on Memorial Day 2015, a true servant of his country.