Bill Richardson – rest in peace and rise in glory

Deacon Ormonde Plater remembers The Rev. Bill Richardson at his blog. He writes:

A Saint has died: The Rev. William P. Richardson, 98, rector of St George’s, New Orleans, from 1953-1976, died peacefully last night at 10:48 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. George’s on Monday, Oct. 8, at noon.

Among the gay community in the United States, Bill Richardson is honored as a hero.

On June 24, 1973, fire broke out in a gay bar, the Upstairs Lounge, at Iberville and Chartres in the Vieux Carré. The patrons were trapped behind barred doors and windows of the second-story lounge. Thirty-two died, and many others were injured.

He cites a letter that Fr. Bill wrote about the event and aftermath to the editor of the Integrity newsletter.

To the Editor:

Thank you for the Spring 1991 issue. It is excellent.

I have a some additional information for you concerning your article “Closeted Gay Bishop Dies of AIDS.” In 1971 I attended a summer seminar at General Theological Seminary on “Homosexuality, Women’s Liberation and Communal Living.” I returned home to St. George’s Church here in New Orleans where I was rector, determined to do all in my power to support lesbians and gay men.

The local Metropolitan Community Church met in our chapel for some months. Then they found their own small church. From time to time I attended their afternoon service, and I came to know their minister, Rev. Bill Larsen, quite well. He often came to see me regarding their scrambled liturgy and what to do about it.

The night of June 24, 1971 (sic) some 30 or more members of the MCC group and friends were at an upstairs bar. A man who was drunk fire-bombed the stairs. The windows had iron bars over them. As a result nearly all those there were burned to death. My phone rang at 3 a.m. telling me of this. I was grieved greatly, for included among those burned to death was Bill Larsen, my friend.

Next morning a member of the MCC called to ask if they could have a memorial service that evening at St. George’s. I agreed, providing they would not make a big splash over it. The Rev. Troy Perry [Founder and Moderator of MCC] flew in that evening and assisted with the service. Some 80-90 persons attended. I warned the TV people not to take pictures, and asked the reporters to play it low-key. They did.

Bishop Iveson B. Noland, who was later killed in a plane crash in New York, phoned me early the next morning. He said, “Bill, this is the Bishop. Have you read the morning paper?” I said, “Yes, Bishop, I have.” “Is it true that the service was at St. George’s Episcopal Church?” “Yes, Bishop, it was.” “Why didn’t they have it in their own church?” he asked. I replied, “For the simple reason their own small church holds about 18 persons. Without any publicity we had over 80 present.” “What am I to say when people call my office?” I replied, “You can say anything you wish, Bishop, but do you think Jesus would have kept these people out of His church?”

I heard later the Bishop had a hundred calls, and I got hate calls and letters. Only one member of our vestry supported me. Later, I was stopped on the street by many persons thanking me for doing such a Christian thing.

Later that week, I was asked if we could have another memorial service the next Sunday afternoon at St. George’s. I had to decline for I was just leaving for a month’s trip to India to visit friends, and I knew I would have to be present for such a service. It was then that the late Bishop Finis Crutchfield offered the Rampart St. Methodist Church for that extra service.

I shall be grateful if you will insert this in your next issue. I am still very active in lesbian/gay affairs, though our Integrity group eventually folded. I have spoken several times before the City Council and before our Diocesan Convention regarding lesbian/gay issues, but to little avail. But I’m not giving up!


(The Rev.) William P. Richardson, Jr.

New Orleans, LA

Read it all here.

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