Gimme Shelter: Remembering Richard

Before certain circumstances and then COVID-19 changed everything, one of the best parts of my week was Thursday morning at the Reporter’s office on North Ferry Road.

I was almost always the first to arrive, greeted by bundled stacks of the paper we had put together over six days and had sent to the printer on Wednesday night. A daily newspaper is called by its employees “the daily miracle,” and we could justifiably call our work “the weekly miracle.” Seeing the bundles of newsprint was proof miracles happen.

I’d cut the plastic strips around the bundles and place a fresh copy on each of my colleagues’ desks, load up the paper in the enclosed news box outside, and the one inside the newsroom next to the door.

And then the bonus to my favorite morning would be the arrival of Richard Lomuscio. We’d greet each other and he’d say, picking up a copy of the paper, scanning the front page, “What’s new?”

“Read all about it, my friend.”

Richard would, of course, first turn the pages to find his byline (just like every journalist ever born) and gently, but with enough force to make his point, ask why I hadn’t used the photo he’d sent to accompany that week’s “Richard’s Almanac.”

When I always responded that it was a matter of space he, in turn, with a wicked grin, would ask why I didn’t cut something less essential to Reporter readers, such as that week’s editorial. He had a point, since I was fairly certain that after the police blotter, Richard’s column was the most popular part of our paper.

Then he’d turn to the front page and quickly scan pages as he spoke about the issues on the minds of Islanders and throw in an anecdote of an earlier time related to a story in that week’s paper. We’d turn to talk about state and national news.

He didn’t always agree with my interpretations — and vice versa  — but it was a lively conversation with humor as the connective tissue of our disagreements. And he had a wonderful exit ramp when all had been said and repetition was just around the conversation’s corner. He’d look aside and say, “Oh, well.”

Richard was the rare person who had an effortless charm, a sense of civility and commitment to be involved in every encounter, a genuine interest in you and what you had to say. His humor was the product of a delight in the unexpected, the quirks and imperfections of the world and in all of us, and often in his own eccentricities.

I’d run into him around town, and would find myself standing in the IGA parking lot talking for half an hour about Trump, or town government or hilarious tales of Bob Dunne, the editor Richard had worked for when Dunne ran the Reporter. I cherish a memory of sitting outside STARs on a spring afternoon, as he asked me about my life before Shelter Island.

His death was a shock. His engagement with life and living was so visible in his many passions, from cars to poetry to travel, and above all, his family. His vibrant sense of life was obvious to anyone who knew him and, for those who didn’t know him personally, had a nearly identical understanding of him through his weekly column.     

To speak of his professionalism as a journalist would have embarrassed him. Meeting every deadline, and knowing that writing a column required empathy as much as information and entertainment, was something you just did. And when I assigned a straight news story — Richard never hesitated to accept — I knew it would be done impeccably, with no bias, and a cleanly written sense of who, what, when, where and why.

His final column on Feb. 19 was headlined “Carpe Diem,” and opened: “The headline of this column is a Latin expression for “seize the day” and it’s applied to themes often found in lyric poetry — to enjoy life’s pleasures while one is able.”

Farewell, my friend. Mary and I and all who knew you take your parting advice to heart. We will remember it as just one of the many gifts you’ve left us.