Dick Pierce spent more than 50 years as a building contractor, once installing the kitchens and bathrooms in the Church Park apartment complex near Symphony Hall.
In the energy crisis in the 1970s, he conducted home weatherization workshops across Massachusetts, and the US Department of Energy hired him to conduct similar workshops in other states. In the early 1980s, he founded the Solar Resource Center in Roxbury to educate businesses on the merits of solar energy, and Governor Edward J. King lauded Mr. Pierce’s efforts in a 1980 State House ceremony honoring “unsung heroes” of energy conservation.
Beyond his work, however, Mr. Pierce was so fond of his adopted neighborhood that he became known to many as Mr. Roxbury, and he penned the book, “Roxbury: A Brief History of Its People, Places, and Things.”
“I have compiled these historical facts and other information in hopes that they will inspire and motivate the young people of Roxbury to emulate their predecessors,” he wrote.
Mr. Pierce, a longtime athlete who competed in the Boston Marathon as a teenager, died of cancer Jan. 19 in the Arlington, Va., home of daughter Wanda, where he had lived for several years. He was 78.
“There’s a lot of history in Roxbury,” Mr. Pierce told the Globe in 1976, when he helped persuade the community to refurbish Boston’s oldest firehouse, on Eustis Street in Roxbury.
Mr. Pierce, who had served as president of the Greater Roxbury Chamber of Commerce, “believed in economic and social justice and wanted better times and opportunities for the Roxbury community,” said his longtime friend, Alvin J. Godfrey Sr. of Boston.
At an early age, Mr. Pierce was taught to engage in benevolent acts. “As kids, we were strongly encouraged by our parents to help others, especially our own people, and Richard took it to heart,” said his sister Alfaretta Singleton of Newton.
In March 1977, Mr. Pierce took particular pleasure in presenting a trophy to a team of African-American children who won the pee wee division championship of the Boston Neighborhood Hockey League.
“I grew up in Arlington, where hockey was king, so I skated with all the other kids,” he told the Globe that day. “And when I went to Boston Trade School to take up cabinet-
making, hockey was my sport.”
Asked if he endured racial slurs playing a sport that included few African-American players, Mr. Pierce smiled while replying.
“Well let’s put it this way,” he said. “Sometimes I got to thinking I was the puck.”
Born in Arlington, Richard C. Pierce was the youngest of five children. He ran cross-country at Arlington High School for two years and transferred to Boston Trade High School. He ran in the Boston Marathon the year after graduating from high school.
“When he initially asked our parents at the dinner table if they thought he could accomplish it, my father said, ‘Of course, but you’ll need training,’” Singleton recalled. “My mother’s comment was, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other and don’t stop until you reach the end, and we’ll all be there,’ and we were.”
Mr. Pierce, whose marriage to the former Savannah Lee Brown ended in divorce, taught his son, Richard Jr., to play hockey and showed him the workings of the home improvement trade.
Mr. Pierce also taught neighborhood children to play hockey, and he worked to educate neighbors about African-
Mr. Pierce devoted so much time to Roxbury “because he thought people looked down on it,” said his son, Richard Jr., also of Arlington, Va. His son also helped care for his father when his health began declining.
His daughter added that Mr. Pierce was a founder of the Roxbury Heritage Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving Roxbury’s history.
Mr. Pierce, whose other ventures included a home inspection firm, was an Army veteran who had been stationed in Korea, according to his family.
He liked to play golf and was fond of discussing military history and Ireland.
“Growing up in the Boston area led to his longtime interest in Ireland, and he always wanted to someday visit that country,” his daughter said.
In October 2003, they went on a guided tour of Ireland, “during which time he was able to use his often-practiced Irish brogue, much to the amusement of the Irish people,” she said. “True to his creative drive and entrepreneurial spirit, upon our return he promptly established an Irish gifts and novelty business, Erin Go Bragh.”
In addition to his daughter, son, and sister, Mr. Pierce leaves another daughter, Gail McAden of Roxbury; another sister, Elizabeth Clements of Centerville; and five grand- children.
McAden said she fondly remembers her father’s jokes.
Wanda said her father encouraged her to attend Harvard College because his grandfather had worked there in maintenance. For graduation, he gave her a medallion crafted by her great-grandfather that bore the Harvard logo on the front and four generations of Pierce names on the back.
“We were always close, and even after I moved outside of Boston to pursue graduate school and my career, he traveled to my home over the years to help with whatever carpentry work was needed,” she said. “I’m going to miss his sense of humor and jokes, as well as his general knowledge about things. Spending time with him over the last 3½ years after he moved in with me is something I’ll treasure.”
Laurie D. Willis can be reached at email@example.com.