May V. Richardson, 93, pioneer in Baltimore public school system

October 26, 2003|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

When May Virginia Richardson was promoted in the late 1950s to become the first African-American manager in the central food service office of Baltimore public schools, not everyone was pleased.

"Being the first black supervisor over a lot of white workers, there were people who didn't like it," recalled Olivia E. Carter, who worked with Mrs. Richardson for 27 years. "She faced many difficult situations. But she was almost fearless. And she won everyone's respect. She was very knowledgeable, devoted, dedicated. She was a super leader."

Mrs. Richardson later earned a promotion to regional supervisor, overseeing food service at about 25 schools before her retirement in 1974.

Mrs. Richardson, 93, died Tuesday of heart failure at Northwest Medical Center.

Friends and family remember her as a woman who regularly helped others, from the days when she would buy lunch for children who showed up penniless at the school cafeteria to her recent mothering of younger members of her church, St. Mark's United Methodist.

"Everybody called her Mom, not just us," said her son, Lewis Richardson, a retired deputy superintendent of Baltimore schools and eldest of her four children. "She was a very loving person who cared for people in the family and outside the family."

Once, in the 1940s, when Mrs. Richardson was hospitalized for a routine illness, she met an elderly fellow patient who had no one to pick her up from Provident Hospital and to look after her as she recuperated.

Mrs. Richardson didn't hesitate. "She just took the lady home and said she could stay with us," recalled Elizabeth H. Adams, a cousin who also became part of the household from ages 12 to 20. "We called her Miss Susie, and she lived with us for about two months, until her relatives finally came to get her."

Born May Virginia Hamilton in Baltimore in 1910, Mrs. Richardson was sent to live with an aunt in Philadelphia as a young child after the death of her mother. She returned as a teen-ager and graduated from Douglass High School, her son said.

In 1928, she married Lewis H. Richardson, a postal worker, who died in 1964.

She began working in school cafeterias during World War II, eventually serving as cafeteria manager at Dunbar High School for about a decade, said Mrs. Carter, her friend and former colleague.

"Children loved her, especially in high school," Mrs. Carter said. "She was a mother to everybody. If they did something wrong, she'd sit down and talk with them."

Eventually school administrators spotted her talent and promoted her across the color line to the central office, where she oversaw everything from purchasing to cafeteria design.

"She was a trailblazer," Mrs. Carter said.

Mrs. Richardson devoted much of her time to her church, her family said. At St. Mark's, near her Ashburton home, she was active in United Methodist Women, Altar Guild and Lydia Circle and served on the finance committee.

In her free time, she loved working crossword puzzles, playing pinochle and traveling, her family said. Despite all the years she cooked for a living, she enjoyed preparing Sunday and holiday meals.

"We loved her macaroni and cheese," said her son.

Services were held yesterday at St. Mark's.

Other survivors include two other sons, Donald Richardson and John Richardson, both of Baltimore; a daughter, Mildred Worthy, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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