Look around. If you chose seven belongings whose stories would impart an understanding of who you are and the life you’ve lived, what would those things be?
Story Slim Smith | Photographs Luisa Porter
In a world in which what’s new becomes obsolete at a dizzying pace, Emma
Richardson treasures most those things which have stood the test of time.
It might, at first, seem like a contradiction. As an English teacher at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS), Richardson’s life work is devoted to helping shape futures. But the old things, the things that have endured, are not set in contrast. Rather, they complement the future, providing context that only the broad sweep of history can provide.
It is not a matter of the escapism that nostalgia provides, but a link, a thread that weaves through the generations, connecting one to another.
A look at Richardson’s Seven Things reveals an appreciation of things that endure because they were made to endure.
1. Her WEDDING BAND is a good example — it even predates her marriage, in fact. Emma married Tom Richardson in 1974, but the simple wedding band was worn by her paternal grandmother, Emma Gallant Brown, who was married in 1888 and wore the ring for more than 60 years. “Even though I never saw my grandmother, I know her, so strong was her influence,” Richardson says. “I think of her, and my husband, every day when I look at my ring.”
2. A PRINT OF THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS adorns a wall in Richardson’s small office at MSMS. It is one of the most iconic images in golf, but for Richardson its significance goes far beyond the sport. It is a reminder of one of the most influential years in her life, both academically and personally.
“I attended (the University of) St. Andrews during my junior year of college (1972-73),” she says. “The picture shows the residence hall where I lived, the red sandstone building in the background, just to the right of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse. My room faced the North Sea, but I could peer around the corner and see golfers on the Old Course.”
It was there that Richardson also met her husband. Tom Richardson, now provost and vice president of academic affairs at Mississippi University for Women, was also studying in Scotland.
“A month before I left for Scotland, my uncle, who had been Tom’s high school principal in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and who knew we would both be ‘strangers in a strange land,’ introduced us,” she says. “Before the year was out, we were engaged.”
3. As a member of the original faculty at MSMS, Richardson has been the advisor for SOUTHERN VOICES, the school’s annual literary/arts journal. She treasures all 28 issues of the magazine.
“I am the last of the original 12 faculty members still teaching at MSMS,” says Richardson, who taught English in North Carolina before she and Tom moved to Columbus. “I just finished my 42nd year of teaching English,” she says. “I feel called to teach, and what a joy it is every day to come to school. Our MSMS students are gifted in so many areas, and it’s been a privilege and pleasure to teach so many able writers. I’ve had some of my own poetry and essays and articles published over the years, but the real thrill is seeing my students’ work in print.”
4. The PAINTING OF EUDORA WELTY AND MARGARET WALKER, proudly displayed in the Richardsons’ dining room, was the work of another of her talented MSMS students, Bethany Nickerson. Nickerson painted the image from a newspaper photograph of Welty helping celebrate Walker’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in the early 1990s.
“It represents my love for Southern writing, as well as reminds me of one of the most noteworthy evenings of my life: the night Eudora Welty came to our home when Tom and I hosted a dinner for the annual MUW Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium,” she says. The painting is one of several works of art from MSMS students that adorn her home.
5. The CUSTOM-BUILT BOOKCASES in the Richardsons’ Southside home reach to the ceiling and hold thousands of volumes.
“Tom and I are both book-lovers, but the shelf that is my favorite is the one of several with modern and contemporary Scottish fiction,” she says. “My interest in that period goes back, of course, to my year at St. Andrews and later to my master’s thesis at Duke University written on the 1932 novel, Sunset Song, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.”
6. The magnetic board that resides on the Richardsons’ dining-room table displays FAMILY PHOTOS.
“Tom and I and our son, Thomas, and his wife, Hillary, are in our Cameron tartan last fall at the annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan service at First Presbyterian Church,” she says, pointing to one of the photos. Thomas teaches English at New Hope High School. Another photo on the board features their daughter, Cameron, and her husband, Cader, who live in Stillwater, Minnesota, with their two children, Isaac (8) and Anna (7 months). Cameron teaches Hebrew and Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, and Cader is minister at First Presbyterian Church (USA) in Stillwater.
7. The SEAL OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (USA) represents a major part of Richardson’s life. “We have been members of First Presbyterian Church on Bluecutt Road since moving to Mississippi, where that congregation helped us raise our children and has given us opportunities to live out our faith in Columbus and in the wider world,” she says. “I sing in the choir, and I am an Elder. Tom and I are from families that have been Presbyterian for more than 200 years and we appreciate our denomination’s centuries-long commitment not only to worship and service but to study and education.”