By Deborah Branscum
Born in Detroit on Nov. 29, 1943, Richard Allen Reynolds lived a life driven by varied passions that ranged from writing and social justice to the French horn, travel, cooking (Italian and Indian were his favorites), Vitabath, and espresso. He died at home on March 1, 2014, in the care of his amazing wife, Fran Haselsteiner.
Richard once wrote that he was forever grateful that the 60s came along just when he needed them. “The senior picture in my 1962 high school yearbook showed a kid with a flat top and a look of determination. No one could guess that I was headed straight toward sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.”
He planned to become an English professor and spent seven years in graduate school at Wayne State University. But, as the years passed, he became disillusioned with academic life. When Richard turned 26, too old for the Vietnam draft, he quit school and went to Europe for three months.
Richard’s lifelong passion for espresso was born in Italy when a high school friend living in Naples introduced him to new, unimaginably delicious food and drink.
Post-trip, Richard spent another year in Detroit before moving to San Francisco in 1971. After a friend told him about a job, Richard was hired by Mother Jones magazine to type manuscripts part-time. Soon he was a full-time employee. Richard worked at MJ for 32 years, primarily as Communications Director.
That day job didn’t prevent him from working as a professional musician, a huge part of his life. Richard played in the Berkeley Symphony and the Lamplighters Orchestra for more than 30 years.
“I once read a description of what it’s like for a surfer when he finds a perfect wave and can go on and on within the curl of the wave,” Richard wrote. “Playing in an orchestra can be like that. I would get into a place where I was riding along and totally confident that I was going to play perfectly. It was magical, exciting, and fed my soul.”
Richard was also a talented writer. He wrote about music for the San Francisco Symphony and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; his articles on food and coffee appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Gourmet, Saveur, Gastronomica, Imbibe, Fresh Cup, and the East Bay Monthly.
His most lasting work as a writer may be the ShigMurao.org website. It was created as a tribute to his late friend Shig Murao, a seminal figure in the history of San Francisco’s beat scene and the City Lights bookstore. In June 2012, ShigMurao.org became the first website accepted into the collection of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.
In August 1983, Richard married his long-time sweetheart, Fran, who patiently tolerated his loud support of the 49ers during football season and supported him through thick and thin. Thick included wonderful pets, lots of gardening, cooking for friends, and a fair amount of travel. Thin included seven years of illness during the last portion of his life.
Colleagues will remember Richard’s dogged attempts to get Mother Jones into the national spotlight. “Richard was successful at the uphill job he took on: making the mainstream, traditional media pay attention to an upstart magazine in San Francisco,” said MJ cofounder Adam Hochschild. “Maybe he was so good at this because journalists never expected a publicity person to be so modest, low-key, and self-effacing. I’m immensely grateful for all he did.”
Fellow musicians will remember Richard as a consummate professional who held his own among full-time musicians. “His personality and his character were the embodiment of the spirit that was the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra,” said Kent Nagano, Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra 1978–2008 and currently Music Director of Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. That spirit included “dedication, aesthetic sensibility, curiosity, generosity, and an ability to celebrate individualism.”
Friends will remember Richard’s blueberry pancakes with cornmeal, raucous laugh, insistence that the coffee at fine restaurants is usually swill, and daily Monterey Market trip, during corn season, to buy fresh ears carefully packed in ice to preserve their sugar content.
Richard was lovable and loving. He is survived by his wife, Fran; brother, Roger; niece, Erika, and many friends. Memorial donations may be made to Mother Jones magazine at 222 Sutter Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94108.
Feel free to share your messages of condolence and/or memories of Richard Reynolds in the comments.
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