Reprinted with permission from the Sumter Item by Kareem Wilson
Eloise Paschal and Maria Kirby-Smith pulled the silk turquoise cloth off to reveal a new statue erected by the Solomon B. Jackson Jr. Administration Building at Morris College: a 6-foot, life-sized Luns C. Richardson, the ninth and longest-serving president.
Both Paschal, Richardson's sister, and Kirby-Smith, the sculptor, looked in awe at the new piece of art in the center of the campus.
Morris College held a statue unveiling on Wednesday to honor the memory of the college's former president. The bronze statue depicts Richardson with a book in his hand, his right foot forward and head held high, looking ahead with an inscription under him that reads: "Luns C. Richardson. President of Morris College. 1974-2017. He was a blessing to all that knew him."
The Hartsville native began his tenure as Morris College president in July 1974 when the college was in financial turmoil. It was under Richardson's leadership that the private, Baptist historically Black, co-educational college saw significant growth as his drive and administrative experience ushered the college into a new era of academic progress and distinction.
He expanded the academic program with at least 16 new majors, presided over the development of 17 new buildings, advanced technological development, added an Army ROTC Unit and increased enrollment and financial support, growing the school's endowment from $30,000 to exceed $10 million, according to the college's history.
He also marshaled the college in its initial accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 1978 and membership in the College Fund and United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in 1982.
After 43 years of service, he retired June 30, 2017, becoming the college's and state's longest-serving college president. He passed away in January 2018 at the age of 89.
Leroy Staggers, the current president at Morris College, said it's an honor to recognize a legendary individual in the college's history. Staggers said Richardson's passion for education stands among other legendary Black educators, including Booker T. Washington and Mary McLeod Bethune.
"Everybody that he touched, every life that he touched, he made it better," Staggers said. "He was indeed a great educator. He stands up there with the giants in education."
Other individuals who encountered Richardson also spoke about his character.
"He was not an elected leader. He was a called leader," said Donald Greene, president of Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of S.C. Greene also said Richardson was a "meek, mild-mannered" individual who never sought attention but was always recognized by his peers and students for his hard work.
The statue, which had been two years in the making, was created by Kirby-Smith, who is a managing member of Certified Palmetto Bug Casting LLC.
"I'm honored to be part of it," Kirby-Smith said.
She said she worked with Frank Williams Jr., pastor of Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, to get a statue in Richardson's honor. She worked tirelessly with the Rev. Albert Williams, Richardson's tailor, in getting every detail of his likeness - from his shoes to the number of buttons on his sleeve and the knot of his tie - to get a clear picture of the former president and pastor.
Her efforts paid off as family members such as Paschal; Stan Paschal, Eloise's son and the nephew of Richardson; and former alumni who also attended the unveiling were amazed by the life-like statue.
His sister described having a close brother-sister relationship and called him "a boss," someone who would help his siblings and other family members.
"If we needed something and he knew we needed it, he gave it without a lot of questions," Paschal said. "I love him. I still do."
Most who attended the event described him as a "man of dignity and a distinguished educator" and were jubilant to see the statue.
Just like the statue, Richardson's legacy is cemented on the college campus for all to admire.