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Richard "Dickie" Montgomery

April 09, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com

Richard "Dickie" Montgomery had three families — his immediate family, his softball family and later in life, a church family. In the end, those families came together to support him and each other.

At his viewing and funeral, Dickie's immediate family heard stories of his generosity that went far beyond anything they had imagined. From helping people pay their rent and utilities to buying groceries, he made a difference in the lives of many.

Dickie was a West Ender. He grew up there with his older brother Raymond, who is deceased, and younger sister Joni "Peachy" Ecton, who donated one of her kidneys to Dickie about five years ago.

Dickie returned to the West End after five years in the U.S. Navy, following graduation from North Hagerstown High School in 1961.

Judy Eichelberger met Dickie when she moved to Mitchell Street, the street Dickie lived on. She said all of the kids would hang out together.

He caught her eye because of "his bubbly ways. He wasn't backward like I am. He was on the lines. I was behind," said Judy, who added that he was polite and always respectful of women.

The couple married 45 years ago and lived in several different houses in the West End, including their home for the past 18 years on Nottingham Road.

Judy said he used to be called "Dickie Bird" when he was young and the shortened version stuck. To his softball family, though, he was known as "Line Drive."

"All in all, he couldn't have been a better father. He had his ball team, but took care of things at home," Judy said.

Dickie loved all sports, with football the one he played in high school. He helped manage the Hubs baseball team when he was in high school, then in 1974, got involved with local slow-pitch softball.

His interest in softball began while he was working at Mack Trucks, where he had a 39-year career as a machine operator.

"I knew he liked sports, but I never knew how much. It got worse," Judy said.

Gary "Lummie" Lum coached with Dickie. He said Dickie's slow-pitch career began on a bet with a fellow Mack employee, who played slow-pitch softball.

Dickie had played fast pitch and they challenged each other to put together a slow-pitch team and see who would win. Dickie got hooked and his teams became affiliated with the Amateur Softball Association of Maryland.

That involvement became a 29-year odyssey that took him across the country for tournaments and resulted in four national titles and his induction in the Maryland Slow Pitch Hall of Fame in 2010.

"That was the exclamation point at the end of his career," Lummie said in a phone interview.

There are now almost 90 slow-pitch softball teams in Washington County. Lummie added that at least 2,000 softball players in the Tri-State area played with Dickie and over the 29 years, Dickie's teams traveled to all of the East coast states, Alabama, California, Oklahoma and Texas.

"These players would never have seen that caliber of softball if it weren't for Dick Montgomery. Dickie will always be 'Mr. Softball' in this area," Lummie said.

The softball players turned out in force for Dickie's viewing and funeral, which Lummie described as a "huge family reunion". After the coffin was loaded into the hearse, the pallbearers yelled "Line drive!" in his honor, as he had been known to say.

"He took that to heaven with him," Lummie said.

At times, Judy and the kids struggled with how Dickie's commitment to softball meant time away from them. Success in a tournament might mean a 10-day road trip away from home.

Those feelings were eventually put aside, though, when they realized how much softball meant to him.

"He was a natural leader. He had such a big heart. He was a motivator," said daughter Christa Jacobson.

Dickie was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 40, but his love of food made it difficult for him to follow doctor's orders. He had a toe amputated and eventually ended up on kidney dialysis, until he had a kidney transplant.

After the transplant, Dickie had renewed energy and health for a time.

Once the grandchildren came along and got involved in activities, they became Dickie's priority and it was time to get out of softball. The timing coincided with his health issues, as well.

"He was drained after dialysis, but still came to games. His sister really did give him quality of life," son Rich said.

His failing health in the last five years was a wake-up call to slow down. His family — including Judy, three children — Mike, Richard Jr. and wife Kelly, Christa and husband Allen Jacobson and six grandchildren — see it now as a gift.

Dickie gave up softball and threw his energies into supporting his family.

"As we were teaching Richie (Dickie's grandson) to play, he was teaching me to manage," Rich said.  

Whether it was Little League or volleyball games, piano or dance recitals, Dickie was there, even if he wasn't feeling well. He insisted on standing for the national anthem or during church, out of respect, even though it was all he could do to stay on his feet.

Dickie visited his 91-year-old mother, who lives at Reeders Nursing Home in Boonsboro, every Saturday until his final hospitalization.

Raised Catholic, Dickie had fallen away from the church, often spending Sundays at softball games. Once his softball career was behind him, he started going to The Good Shepherd Ministries with his daughter's family to see his granddaughter, now age 7, sing.

As Dickie became more comfortable in church and got to know the pastor, he and Judy started attending more regularly, becoming part of a church family. Memorial donations in Dickie's honor are going to the church.

Christa said the death of Dickie's father, Virgil Montgomery, at age 44, when Dickie was 17, had a profound impact on him. His father had always made a big deal out of holidays, especially Christmas, and Dickie carried on that tradition with his own family.

Not a surface was left untouched when it came to decorating for Christmas. Christa said her father would take the family to the Christmas tree farm and pick the biggest tree, knowing about half of it would have to be cut off to fit into the house.

Dickie also did the gift buying and shopped with gusto for his family.

"He spoiled us," said Rich, who added that his father also organized many family gatherings and insisted the family watch the Mummers Parade together each year.

"He led everything for the family. He was the one making the calls and organizing," Rich said.

Christa's husband, Allen, hit it off early on with his father-in-law.

"I think we shared a love of sports, competition and Judy's cooking. We both had the same philosophy of life — easygoing and loved life," Allen said.

The beach, Atlantic and New York City were favorite destinations and places Dickie and Judy traveled to while his health still allowed it.

"You know how great he was? When you have grown men come to a funeral home and cry like babies ..." Judy said.

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Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Richard L. Montgomery Sr., who died March 25 at the age of 68. His obituary was published in the March 27 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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