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Monday, Feb. 8, 2021

Gene Richardson Leads by Example

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Shreveport Rotary Club ambassador stands out

The downtown Shreveport Rotary Club has a long and storied tradition. It began with 13 members in 1914 and was the 109th such club created, according to Rotary Executive Director Judy Bellew.

In 1967, a gentleman joined the club a month after his father, a Rotarian, had passed away. Now, 53-plus years later, Gene Richardson is still a member and has had 100% attendance in all that time.

“It’s not perfect attendance. Perfect attendance is someone who has never missed a weekly meeting. My father had perfect attendance going until he got sick. In my case, when I became ill, the club excused me. So I moved from perfect attendance to 100% attendance because I was excused.”

The 100% attendance refers to someone who has never had an unexcused absence from a regular weekly meeting. That perfect attendance has suffered for all the members lately as the pandemic has limited meetings, forcing smaller in-person gatherings and expansion of meetings to include Zoom participation.

The sickness he referred to in his case was an episode of cardiac arrest. The Downtown Rotary’s traditional start time is in honor of the original 13 members and begins promptly at 12:13 p.m. While he was sitting at the head table of the meeting on that day, waiting for the clock to strike 12:13, he said he felt something funny. The next thing he knew, Dr. James Ciaravella, a member and noted local cardiologist, was “pounding on my chest when I came to,” Richardson said. “I told him, ‘Stop, you’re hurting me.’” Some off-duty firefighters were picking up extra money doing some remodeling in the hotel where the club met. They were quickly summoned and began life-saving efforts on the unconscious Richardson. In the meantime, Dr. Ciaravella kept up his resuscitation efforts as well until an ambulance arrived.

When Richardson was whisked into the Schumpert Medical Center Emergency Room, he had lost consciousness again. In another strange bit of luck or fate, his personal cardiologist, Dr. Robert Lafargue, was in the ER conducting a tour. LaFargue excused himself from the group and began assisting the trauma team. Eventually, Dr. Ciaravella performed heart surgery on Richardson.

After the surgery and what he described as a “tough” recuperative period under the stern watch of Dr. Ciaravella, Richardson returned to his weekly meeting three months later. The club moved him from the perfect attendance roll to the 100% attendance category.

While he was attracted to Rotary because his father had been a member, Richardson also says he has stayed because of the community work that the organization does. Projects like Common Ground, the Rotary Learning Bus, blood drives with LifeShare Blood Center, homelessness projects with the Rescue Mission, and one particularly close to home.

“Right now, their main thrust has been the eradication of polio throughout the world. I experienced polio myself in 1947. It was a very mild case of it; I was very fortunate.”

In addition to the work fighting polio, Richardson said he is particularly proud of the work Rotary does internationally is assisting areas struck by disasters. “Disaster Aid is a group that spun off a group that was originally Shelter Box,” Richardson explained. “They will go anyplace, primarily natural disasters, even though they’ve been to places like Ethiopia and places such as that where there has been civil war. Places where people become homeless because of natural disasters or war. They go in and give immediate relief, shelter, water.”

Rotary is involved in immediate response, short-term assistance, and long-term rebuilding,” Richardson said. He also serves in the disaster aid program.

“I serve as what they call an ambassador, in the sense that I talk it up and go visit other clubs and ask them to participate.”

For more than 10 years, Richardson served as the chief plumbing inspector for the city of Shreveport. In that capacity, he was in charge of supervising all the plumbing inspectors working in the field in Shreveport. His group was in charge of enforcing the city’s plumbing codes. He was recommended by Mike Strong, who has since retired, and was appointed by then-mayor Cedric Glover. He served until July 2019. Since then, he’s been focusing his efforts on the work of the Rotary Club.

Judy Bellew indicated that Richardson is a modest fellow and would probably not want to “toot his own horn.” But she added that his service and dedication were ample reason for the local club to hold him in high esteem.

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