Seattle community rally around Max Richards' family after death

Max Richards in a photo taken one week before his death. Photo / Facebook
Max Richards in a photo taken one week before his death. Photo / Facebook

The Seattle community is rallying around the wife of Kiwi poet Max Richards who was killed while out walking his dog.

The 79-year-old writer and academic suffered fatal head injuries after being hit by a car as he walked across an intersection at Belmont Ave East and Bellevue Place East, in the Capitol Hill district of the city last month, local media reported.

His labrador-retriever, Pink - who was not harmed in the incident - refused to leave his side until he was taken to hospital, according to the police officer who brought her home.

The driver of the car which struck Richards - a woman in her 40s - showed no signs of impairment, Seattle Police said. She was interviewed and released pending further investigation.

Pink the labrador, who according to a policeman, did not want to leave Max's side. Photo / Facebook
Pink the labrador, who according to a policeman, did not want to leave Max's side. Photo / Facebook

Richards' wife of 20 years, Marilyn Black, told the Herald members of their community had been "amazing" with people dropping off flowers and even taking turns walking their dogs.

"Max was loved for his cheery Kiwi sociability, his humour and concern. He was known by lots of folks around here, unbeknownst to me . . . as I was always in the apartment with my head down (studying) whilst he was out walking dogs, shopping, exploring the city."

For the first few days after Richards death, staff at the cafe - called Cafe Barjot - attached to their apartment building, were delivering his usual breakfast and lunch orders to her door.

"It was so touching, I just broke down sobbing. Also touching was the roster that was drawn up so that fellow residents were knocking in my door three times a day to walk the dogs, a task beyond me due to health issues at the moment.

"The dogwalkers were so beautiful in their respect for my privacy while reaching out on an emotionally supportive level."

A ceremony - celebrating Richards' years in Seattle - is now being planned for mid-October at Cafe Barjot, where Black will read some of his poems.

In a message to friends, Black wrote about the "unthinkable" tragedy.

"In the space of a second, I lost my whole world. And the world lost a special human being," she said in the Facebook post.

She took comfort in knowing that Pink had stayed by his side, and that he had been surrounded by medical professionals who tried to save his life, she said.

"I am sure the serenity of his face as he passed was linked to these final vital experiences: a stunning fall morning; a devoted family labrador sharing fully in all his pleasures, and pains; and a circle of communion, holding his hand throughout the ordeal.

"But how is it that he's not lying beside me on our bed tonight? The dogs and I can't fathom it."

In separate posts, she said: "The light has gone from our lives", and the dogs had "fought each other for the prime rights to their master's pillow".

It's understood Richards' son Andrew arrived in the city from New South Wales on Thursday, and his family plan to hold his funeral in Melbourne.

Good friend retired Shakespeare scholar Andrew Gurr, who knew Richards from their days at the University of Auckland together, said he was "shocked and desolated" by the news.

"Oh, to lose all that gentleness in such a violent way," he said.

"He sent me and others so many lovely poems over the years," he added, suggesting they be collected into a memorial volume of work.

A memorial walk for Richards will take place on Sunday local time on the street where he was killed. Residents also hope it will put pressure on authorities to make the stretch of road safer for pedestrians.

The area around Belmont and Bellevue is "a steep, tightly packed stretch of road, where neighbours have posted signs reminding motorists to slow down," according to a local news blog.

The intersection has no marked pedestrian crossing, it said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has since indicated that it will be conducting traffic counts at the junction to determine the need for a marked crossing.

Richards and his wife moved to Seattle two years ago so Black could attend a masters programme at Seattle University, and the pair where enjoying their time in the city.

"He threw himself into exploring Seattle," Black told local media.

Before the move, Richards had spent most of his career as a professor of English Literature at La Trobe University in Melbourne, a city they planned to return to in 2018.

Richards went to Mt Albert Grammar School, and then studied English literature at the University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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