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Richard D. Mackereth

February 04, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Richard and Brenda were photographed during a Myrtle Beach vacation in 2011.
Submitted photo

Had he lived a few more weeks, this would have been a big day for Richard Mackereth. He and his friends would be watching the Super Bowl in the basement of his Noland Drive home in Hagerstown.

It was there, surrounded by all the comforts of his man cave — flat-screen TV, two recliners and two couches, a full-size refrigerator and memorabilia from his favorite teams — that he watched sports of all kinds.

His longtime friend and best man, Dave Benner, for years joined Richard every Sunday to watch NFL games during the season.

“He never missed a Sunday,” Brenda Mackereth said of her husband of 43 years.

Most people knew him as Richard, but he was “Guff” to some of his friends. Brenda said she didn’t know the origin of that nickname.

To his three grandsons, including identical twins who were born on Richard and Brenda’s 35th wedding anniversary, he was “Pappy.”

Richard, who was a golf enthusiast, had golf clubs custom-made for his oldest grandson when he was 6 and made sure he learned how to play golf. That grandson just turned 14.

Richard’s favorite sport was basketball and his favorite team was the Boston Celtics. Growing up, Richard played in a YMCA basketball league on a team sponsored by Nibble Nook, a popular local hangout.

He also played in a church league for The Salvation Army. Richard and his friends played outside year-round, and he wouldn’t let snow get in the way of hoops time, showing up with brooms and shovels to clear the court.

Larry Mackereth of Hagerstown, the youngest and last surviving brother, remembers the times he and Richard spent playing with West End friends as children, whether it was basketball, riding bikes, fishing, sledding or just playing a game of chase for hours on end. He said they couldn’t wait for the first snow of the season, so they could play football in the snow.

“I just can’t say enough about him. We just had a close-knit relationship. If you couldn’t get along with my brother, you couldn’t get along with anybody. He’ll be missed,” Larry said.

When it came to professional football, Richard remained a Colts fan even after they left Baltimore for Indianapolis, but he also followed the Baltimore Ravens.

Brenda said that on game days, Richard would dress one of his twin grandsons in Colts apparel, while the other one wore Ravens gear.

“The Colts were still No. 1. He rooted for both unless they played each other. Then he pulled for the Colts,” Brenda said.

As an adult, Richard played in a few golf leagues and shot shuffleboard at Goodwill Athletic Club. He cheered for the Atlanta Braves during baseball season.

Richard belonged to many local organizations and clubs, but Brenda said he didn’t drink and just wanted “to hang out with his friends.”

Growing up together

Richard and Brenda grew up as neighbors on West Church Street in Hagerstown. He was her brother’s best friend from the time the boys were about 5.

She said Richard was one of seven children in a railroading family, and she was one of four children being raised by a single mother. The Salvation Army was a popular gathering spot for many of the neighborhood children.

Despite a five-year age difference, Richard and Brenda started dating when she was 15 and he was 20.

Their first date was a double date to see “Ben Hur” in a movie theater. Richard said it was the first and last time they would watch a movie in a theater, because at 6 feet 1 inch tall, “he didn’t want to sit with his knees in his chest again,” Brenda said.

Instead, they went to drive-in movies, which were popular then.

Richard quit high school for two years to work, then returned to school and graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1965.

Many of Brenda’s girlfriends were getting married before graduating from high school because of the Vietnam War, but Brenda’s mother refused to give her permission. Brenda graduated from North High in 1967, and the couple married on Dec. 7, 1968, a month after Brenda turned 18.

In 1966, Richard and a friend enlisted in the U.S. Army, two weeks before Richard was drafted, Brenda said. He didn’t pass the medical tests, so couldn’t be assigned to a combat zone.

Instead, he was sent to Alaska and was always proud of having served during the Vietnam War era, Brenda said.

“He was so drawn to the Vietnam War. He lost a lot of friends. The military was a big thing for him,” Brenda said.

Retired early

Shortly before his death, as cancer was affecting his brain, family and friends would arrive for visits at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to find Richard thinking it was 1966, the first year of his military service.

For several years, Richard subscribed to three sports magazines. He never read them, but he took them to the VA Outpatient Clinic off Eastern Boulevard for other veterans to read as they waited. He also collected and inspired many others to collect aluminum soda tabs to be donated to the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Richard settled into a job with CSX Transportation as a track inspector, after short stints working at Maryland Ribbon and Jamison Door Co. He worked for CSX for 34 years, retiring at age 60, so he could enjoy his retirement years.

Blood clots in his left leg were also a health concern.

The couple has one daughter, Amy Rudisill of Martinsburg, W.Va., and son-in-law, Gary Jr. The Mackereths’ first daughter died shortly after birth, 2 1/2 years after they were married.

“He was an all-around great guy. He didn’t let nothing bother him. He did everything for everybody,” Amy said of her father.

She said when her husband lost his job, Richard was always there for her to talk to and provided support.

“He helped us back on our feet,” Amy said.  

Brenda said her husband was very outgoing and got along with anybody. The extensive list of online condolences received by the funeral home from across the country is a testament to that.

“He could walk in a room of 100 strangers, and before he left would know them all,” Brenda said.

‘Life of the party’

Age didn’t seem to be a factor in Richard’s friendships, with a wide range of ages paying tribute to Richard at his viewing and funeral. 

Maj. Dan Turner of The Salvation Army, a childhood friend of Richard’s, officiated at his funeral.  

“He didn’t care if you were the janitor or the richest person. He treated them all the same. I don’t think he had an enemy in the world. He was just happy-go-lucky,” Brenda said.

The Mackereths often went on vacations with groups of family and friends.

“He was the life of the party. So many have said vacation won’t be the same,” Brenda said. 

The couple’s beagle, K.C., sits at the front window waiting for Richard to come home. Brenda has taken K.C. to the vet because he’s been sick since Richard died. She was told by the vet that he’s grieving, too. 

About 12 weeks before his death, Richard started having shortness of breath. A stress test showed that one of his arteries was 50 percent blocked, so he had surgery to insert a stent.

When it was time to start rehab, Richard still had shortness of breath and an MRI showed a mass on his kidney.

He was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which the doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital said he had for years before the diagnosis. Treatment options were limited because of the blood clots in his leg, since Richard had to take blood thinners.

“He went so quick, at least he didn’t suffer,” Brenda said. 

She said the first thing Richard asked the doctor was if he could still eat crabs, one of his favorites. He enjoyed a crab feed at the Last Man’s Club in November 2011.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to watch him fade away. I guess we were thankful that we didn’t have to watch that,” Brenda said.


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 D. Mackereth, who died Jan. 20 at the age of 66. His obituary was published in the Jan. 22 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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