Feisty mom couldn’t beat COVID-19

David Richir submitted this photo he called a “salute to momma.” From left are daughter Julie (Richir) John, son David Richir, mother Mary Richir and daughter Debi (Richir) Rice.

JAMESTOWN– It was an October 2007 evening that Mary Richir would never forget. After years of volunteering her time and talents for the Festival of Grapes in her hometown of Silver Creek, N.Y., Richir was honored with the community service award by the Silver Creek-Irving Chamber of Commerce.

That evening, I greeted Richir with a hug during the cocktail hour portion of the event, which was held on the lower level of the Williams Center. She was a bit overwhelmed by the attention, but still in awe. All she had accomplished for the village and festival was not done for any special recognition, which would be awarded the night of that Chamber of Commerce annual banquet. It was done to build on a special tradition.

“She loved her community and loved the grape festival,” said her son, David Richir. “When it was her turn to step up and help … she definitely thrived in it.”

Earlier this month, that event she worked so hard at promoting for so many years became another casualty of the coronavirus. Both the village and organizers announced with regret the September celebration would not take place this year.

If she heard the news, the short in stature, but feisty woman who was known to many as “Marie” would have been crushed.

Adding to how dastardly this virus can be, Richir herself became a victim. On Saturday, May 16, she — like so many others her age — passed away from complications of COVID-19. Since April, the disease has taken a huge toll on far too many of that fragile population living in New York state nursing homes.

Warren County has been fairly unscathed. Through this week, there have only been three positive cases here. Neighboring Chautauqua County, through Thursday, had 81 with 48 in the north county section that borders Erie County, N.Y., one of the upstate hot spots for the virus.

Richir, 85 at the time of her death, had been living in Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park for the last eight years. It is one of the facilities in metropolitan Buffalo that has been greatly touched by the virus that is often fatal to the elderly population. Her son said his mom had fought through a number of other ailments. “She seemed like she survived everything,” said the Sinclairville resident.

After a couple of negative tests in April, David Richir and his sister, Julie John, learned of a follow-up swab that would bring devastating news. Mary Richir was positive.

Rapidly, the illness debilitated a woman who was short in stature but always full of fight. On Mother’s Day, both David Richir and his sister had one last goodbye.

“We got to see her through the window at the nursing home,” he said. “It was heart-breaking. Me and my sister broke down together because she just wasn’t herself.”

It was an agonizing end for a woman who was devoted to assisting her family while making memories. “I never felt like I went without, even though we weren’t wealthy,” Richir said looking back on his younger years. “I was rich in her spirit and her love. That was more than money can buy.”

One of his favorite recollections was a Christmas Eve party with friends that never materialized due to a blizzard. While on leave from the military for the holiday, he and his mom did what former Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin advised others to do while fighting out the historic snowstorm of 1977. They grabbed a six-pack.

Empty cans later became make-shift ornaments that began to line the household Christmas tree. Hours later, a well-known Silver Creek family — Wayne and Elaine Hotelling — made it through the snow and showed up at the house. “My mother was so embarrassed there were beer cans on the tree. … It’s just a funny memory,” Richir said. “It was comical.”

According to the obituary that appeared in the May 21 OBSERVER, the Silver Creek native raised three children as a single mom while working at the Twin Fair department store until it closed. She then earned her insurance agent license and worked at The Record Agency in the village until her retirement. She also had a reputation for baking some of the best Italian fig cookies in the north county.

Besides work and family, she was devoted to her faith, taking great pride and joy in teaching Sunday school and Catechism classes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church where she was a lifelong member. “Most of her strength came from her faith,” her son said.

Richir still has a sense she is looking down on him from the heavens. He has been working this week to get his Valley Motorsports business in Sinclairville ready for Phase 2 of the reopening. This will allow him to sell parts curbside and continue to do repair service on mowers and chainsaws.

“Throughout this whole thing, we’re not doing too bad,” he said of his business. “Someone up there is looking out for me.”

John D’Agostino is regional editor for the Times Observer, Post-Journal and OBSERVER. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111, ext. 253.


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