Our Hometown Stories - Richard Rioux: Walking Tall
On April 28, 1997, at age of 53, Dr. Richard Rioux left this world far too early.
My husband Ron and I lost a dear friend and the Santa Clarita Valley lost one of its greatest cheerleaders and visionaries.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Newhall was filled to overflowing with family, friends, local dignitaries and those whose lives Dr. Richard Rioux brought back from the brink.
Though he does not walk with us, Richard Rioux has never left his beloved Santa Clarita Valley. His footprints are everywhere from Stevenson Ranch to Old Town Newhall. Ideas he planted and friendships he cultivated, flourish today.
This is the Hometown Story of the Richard Rioux that I knew and the Richard Rioux those lucky enough to be touched by him treasured.
Richard Rioux, fell madly and passionately in love in 1963.
Suzanne Ross was a fellow collegiate at San Fernando Valley State College.
Two brilliant minds and two full hearts were joined when Suzanne and Richard married three years later.
The newlyweds began their life together in the San Fernando Valley. Northridge was home; it was where their daughters Regina and Stephanie came into this world and where their father taught school and worked on his Master's Degree at CSUN.
Suzanne and Stephanie
Regina and her daughter Lena
In 1976, America celebrated its Bicentennial, Magic Mountain unveiled its newest coaster "The Revolution," and the Rioux family made their way northbound on Interstate 5 and settled into Santa Clarita.
It was not a blind move. Suzanne's parents, William and Victoria Ross had lived in Newhall since 1966 and often spoke of what a great place it was to raise a family.
Suzanne reminisced about her dad and how he laid the foundation for their family and a community.
"My father had already begun investing in real estate and began to purchase property in town. The land in and around Lyons Avenue and Walnut was originally several lots, some with old homes on them. The property was zoned for business.
Over a period of a few years, my dad renovated the old houses making them into commercial rentals. The Egg Plantation Restaurant was originally two very small houses that he remodeled. His ingenuity created the homey, relaxed and inviting atmosphere that makes Egg Plantation a local favorite.
The first ‘new' building that William Ross built was on the corner of Lyons and Walnut Avenue."
The butter yellow Victorian known as "The Victoria" still stands today and is a most notable landmark. Richard once said, "The Victoria's architecture and quaint shops are the gateway to Old Town Newhall."
"During the 1980's, my dad developed properties on Lyons Avenue and Chestnut Street, keeping the Victorian theme. He was an entrepreneur, but also a skilled carpenter and loved working on his buildings."
William Ross has since passed away, but if you look up at the dome on the Lyons Avenue Victorian, you will see the American Flag he created from stained glass. It is especially striking when it is lit up at night.
The SCV fast became the Rioux's hometown. Regina and Stephanie were enrolled in Meadows Elementary and Richard was working on his Ph.D in History at USC. He completed his degree in 1978 and officially became "Doc Rioux."
The 1980's were a busy time. Suzanne, one of the smartest women I know, became a licensed Marriage Family and Child Counselor and gave birth to two more children, Natasha and then Jeremy. Their family was now complete.
Jeremy with his niece Zoe
Life was good for Suzanne and Richard, but lurking in the background, there was a mistress vying for Richard's attention. Her beauty captivated him; her energy was electric. Richard photographed her and documented her splendor.
The focus of his ardor was not born of flesh, but of soil, seeds, and the spirit of her settlers. A valley surrounded by mountains dotted with oak trees. Winding stretches of streams nourish her roots and soul.
This mistress who staked her own claim on Richard's heart was known by her nickname, "The Valley of the Golden Dream." Her people know her as Santa Clarita.
Nobody could fault him for she was lovely. Suzanne was a willing participant in their love affair.
Richard could not keep his love for the Santa Clarita Valley and the enchantment he felt for his family to himself. He began "Doc Rioux at Large" a column in "The Signal," where he penned his thoughts each Sunday for almost four years. (1993-1997)
The "Doc Rioux at Large" columns are a delight to read. His good friend Leon Worden has indexed and preserved them. Richard's words are witty, inspirational, charming and at times prophetic. I invite you to enjoy them by logging on to scvleon.com/rioux. Have a cup of coffee nearby, as you will probably want to sit a spell.
When I met Suzanne, she and Richard were living in Stevenson Ranch. As with most everything in Richard's life, he was not content to just be a resident of Stevenson Ranch, he was the Founder and President of its Town Council. He brimmed with enthusiasm.
It was the same enthusiasm that led him to coin the phrase "Old Town Newhall, USA." Richard once wrote of his dreams for Newhall in the year 2005. He pictured museums, shops, authentic Mexican restaurants, hands-on crafts and a monorail system linking all of Santa Clarita.
We are not quite there yet, but I am sure that Richard would be proud of all that has been accomplished in downtown Newhall. Adobe architecture, Veterans Plaza, a revitalized shopping area where store owners like Carlos of Planet Soccer have remodeled so that the interiors of their business now match the beautiful exteriors. Two theatre companies, The Rep and Canyon Theatre Guild have brought music and drama to Newhall Avenue. El Trocadero serves up a tasty Margarita and nothing beats the Carne Asada at Vallarta Market.
Richard, it was your vision, I only wish you could enjoy a downtown Sunday stroll with your wife, children and two granddaughters.
In his cowboy hat and jeans, Richard walked through the SCV "winning friends and influencing people." His presence was large, his compassion for his fellow man, unparalleled.
Dr. Richard Rioux was named as Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Antelope Valley Rehabilitation Centers at Acton and Warm Springs.
He championed the underdog. Doc worked hands on with thousands of residents helping them to conquer their demons, be it alcohol or drug abuse.
Richard was aware that prior to leaving the facility, most residents would need the basic skills and knowledge required to build productive lives. He acquired a grant and pioneered a literacy program. Thousands of men and women are indebted to him for his selfless dedication to their total recovery.
As if being a visionary, columnist, Doctor, healer, husband, father and grandfather was not enough, Richard was a friend.
When Ron and I had Suzanne and Richard over for dinner, I grudgingly gave up control of the grill. Ron managed to turn beautiful filets into charcoal briquettes. I feared spontaneous combustion, but Richard smiled and said, "I love well done meat."
It is the small things that stay indelibly stamped on your heart.
Hilda Ramirez worked within the Rioux household for over ten years. She loved the family and took care of their home. I asked Hilda what she most remembered about Richard. She thought for a moment and replied, "He was a kind and good man who always said "Thank you Hilda".
Hilda also spoke of the times that her husband, the artist Miguel Ramirez, and Richard would spend their Saturdays roaming through Santa Clarita. They traveled on foot, with cameras in hand.
Miguel, examining the world with an artist's eye, looking for beauty he could transfer onto a canvas. His companion Richard, peering through the lens of his camera freezing for one moment in time, the perfection of nature. "Images, ~Sunrises, Sunsets and In Between," is a book, a stirring compilation of Richard's photography.
The pictures show you Richard's Santa Clarita and the "preface" adds his voice.
Accompanying the artistry of Richard's Minolta are poems and thoughts from Santa Clarita school children and devoted friends.
I was fortunate to have received "Images" as a gift from Richard in 1996. I am sure there are still copies in existence, if you are up to a treasure hunt.
In the autumn, after Richard had died, Suzanne and I were having lunch. I noticed that she had removed her wedding ring. I acknowledged that it must have been a hard decision. She looked at the small gold band that I was wearing as a thumb ring and said, "I'd like to find something like that to wear on my ring finger." I took off the ring and gave it to her. The fit was perfect and 12 years later, she still wears it. I am honored.
Richard could effortlessly "write pictures." He is an artist and his pen was his palette. I would like to share a paragraph lifted right off of Richard's easel:
"The Santa Clarita Valley is in reality a community of small towns, villages and streets where folks break bread together, raise children together, fight crime together, laugh together, cry together and take footsteps into the future together. It is good to feel connected to the people living around you.
This community that he cherished has paid him back in kind. Sitting atop Stevenson Ranch with views of his beloved valley is the Richard H. Rioux Memorial Park.
It is an ideal setting to play and to reflect. A joyous place where Richard's new granddaughter Zoe can be pushed towards the heavens on a swing.
Natasha Rioux and her daughter Zoe
Walk tall my friend, we miss you.