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UM mourns passing of distinguished alumna Kathleen M. Richardson, C.C., O.M.

September 16, 2019 — 

Kathleen Richardson [BA/49, LLD/89], esteemed member of the Richardson family and one of Manitoba’s most generous patrons of arts and culture, died on September 14, 2019, in Winnipeg, the city of her birth and the city she adored. She was 91.

“Kathleen Richardson was a truly generous person who dearly loved her city and province, and was a lifelong friend of the University of Manitoba,” says David Barnard, UM president and vice-chancellor. “Her devotion to the social and cultural framework of our community was remarkable, and she has left a legacy of giving and benefaction that will be missed, but much remembered.”

Miss Richardson was the great-grand-daughter of James Richardson, whose Kingston, Ontario grain business—founded in 1857—grew into one of Canada’s largest privately held corporations with holdings in grain, oil and gas, and real estate. Both her parents, and later her brother George, ran James Richardson and Sons Ltd. from its Winnipeg headquarters, while her nephew Hartley is in charge today. She was a director of the company and board member of Sun Life and Barclays Bank of Canada.

Her real passion, however, was arts and culture. It’s been said that Richardson, a Companion of the Order of Canada, nurtured almost every arts organization in Winnipeg and many individual artists, often anonymously. She devoted much of her energy to making her city and province an artistic mecca. Quietly, she created new opportunities and audiences while always shunning the limelight.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in particular, benefited from her leadership.  Miss Richardson was its president from 1957 to 1961 and honorary president until her death. She supported the RWB through difficult financial periods, leading the campaign to raise $5.5 million towards construction of its new headquarters in the mid-80s. In the 1950s, her purchase and donation of the former Dominion Theatre supported the establishment of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre as a model for regional theatre nationwide.

Richardson volunteered on the boards of the Canada Council, Stratford Festival, Winnipeg Foundation, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and Manitoba Arts Council. She worked to bring the Pan Am Games to Winnipeg in 1967; later, she helped preserve Macdonald House, now Dalnavert Museum. After her mother’s death in 1973, Richardson demolished the family house on Wellington Ave. and donated 5.4 acres of family property to the city to create Munson Park.

A lifelong friend of U of M and an honorary fellow of St. Paul’s College, she received both an Alumni Jubilee Award and an honorary doctorate. In 1991, Richardson earned the national Edmund C. Bovey Award recognizing her outstanding volunteer leadership in the arts. Two years later, she was promoted from Officer to Companion of the Order of Canada—the country’s highest civilian honour. She was also a member of the Order of Manitoba.

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