Mark Richardson touched lives.
As an educator, musician, family man and friend of Vacaville, his impact was enormous, those close to him said, and his reach, long.
The beloved Browns Valley Elementary teacher, who retired in 2017 after more than 30 years of service and who led the local group Strut-A-Various, died suddenly in December. He was 69 years old.
By all accounts, Richardson was a good-hearted, kind-hearted man who genuinely cared about everyone he met – which meant no one remained an outsider for long.
He was fun and gregarious, giving of his time and knowledge. Especially, it seems, to his fourth graders.
As his widow, Melanie, tells it, Mark was like the Pied Piper. Wherever he walked, children followed. And often their families.
“He remembered all the children he had known,” his 24-year-old wife said. “They had their own culture, their own dialogue. He had a real impact on their lives as a fourth grade teacher.
Surprisingly, Mark was in pharmaceutical sales for 10 years before changing his mind and becoming a teacher. He started his career at Padan Elementary with third and fourth graders, then moved to Browns Valley when it opened.
During this time, he was also a self-taught guitarist who formed a band that often played at Fiesta Days and CreekWalk. Her music fitted perfectly into her teaching, said Mélanie, captivating her students.
“He was special, super special,” she thought to herself. “My husband was larger than life. He was amazing.
A former student, Jarrod Chambers, agreed.
“I was in his first class of third grade,” Chambers recalled over the phone in Los Angeles.
He remembered wanting to play guitar and learning that Mark was a guitarist. At school one day, Mark was playing for the class and Chambers was hooked, constantly asking his teacher about all things guitar.
“I was 11,” he said with a laugh. “I would come in during recess and ask him about guitars and guitar chords and different kinds of things.”
With his mother’s permission, Chambers visited Mark at his home and learned to play basic chords and tune his guitar. He then learned to play AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix songs. He and his sister went to their first gig with Mark, watching Alice Cooper at Warfield in San Francisco.
“When I started writing and recording music, I sent copies to Mark,” he explained. They were chatting, he was getting feedback and he continued to grow musically. He continues to perform and says his teacher had a huge influence on his life.
Shauna Manina knew Mark when she hosted Fiesta and CreekWalk events. He always drew crowds, she said, including his students and their families.
“It was amazing the support he got,” she said.
He was a genuine, caring and empathetic person, she said.
“He loved everyone and everyone loved him,” she said. “He was a very rare soul and his musicality was incredible. … His spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of everyone whose life he touched.
Tennis pal Jeff Thoma had known Mark for 18 years and said he learned a lot from his friend.
“He taught me to listen,” he said. “He always had great things to say, but he thought it was more important to listen.”
You learned without realizing it, Thoma said, and felt joyful in Mark’s presence.
“He was just a great man,” Thoma said. “My heart, literally, is broken.”
Chris McCoulf described Mark as “just one of those people you felt like you had known forever”.
They worked together at Browns Valley and she treasured their friendship.
“He was the engine that made everything work,” she said.
Jim Peoples played bass for Strut-A-Various at various times. Mark was a mentor and a friend, he added.
“I really admired him as a musician, as a person. He was just a nice, great guy. … He was one in a million.
A celebration of Mark’s life is scheduled for Sunday from 2-5 p.m. at Sunrise Banquet Hall, 600 Orange Drive in Vacaville.