They inhabit different worlds but share an uncommon bond.
Dick Ebersol, the former NBC Sports chairman, lost his 14-year-old son Teddy in a 2004 plane crash that nearly cost the executive his own life. Bill Richard lost his 8-year-old son, Martin, in 2013, the youngest victim in the Boston Marathon bombing.
The two men — one from Connecticut, the other from Dorchester — recently spent nearly an hour on the phone. Ebersol had read my piece from December on how Richard was raising money to build Martin’s Park next to the Children’s Museum along the Fort Point Channel.
“The most important thing we learned through this whole experience is that it’s all about being open to friends and family and sharing the stories of life,” Ebersol says he told Richard.
The Richard family’s $13 million project, which will feature a luscious park and playground, is still about $3 million short of its goal. Ebersol and his wife, actress Susan Saint James, planned to donate anonymously, but it’s hard to keep $100,000 gift secret in this town.
It’s their way of giving back after so many came together to fund a project to spruce up three ballfields on the Esplanade that were renamed Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields. (Teddy was a huge Sox fan.)
Nothing will make the pain of losing a child go away, but those fields have helped Ebersol and Saint James heal. They live in Litchfield, Conn., and visit Boston four or five times a year, stopping by Teddy’s fields every time.
Martin’s Park, he told Richard, will become a special place.
“You will get a very, very wonderful sense of happiness and pride looking at something dedicated to your lost child,” Ebersol said. “This is the most you can hope for, keeping alive the memory of your loved child.”
Richard is grateful for Ebersol’s generous donation but just as meaningful was talking to someone who knows what he has been through.
Sure, Richard has heard from parents who lost children, but not quite in the same way he and Ebersol did — “in a split second.”
“The similarities are obviously striking,” Richard said. “When you speak with someone who has gone through the same thing, you don’t have to talk about the obvious. You get past what you already know. We can talk on a different level. It was really nice.”
The idea to refurbish and rechristen state park land in Teddy’s memory came a few days after the plane crash. Dick Ebersol was still recovering in a hospital in Colorado, where the plane went down, when he took a call from Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.
Werner and Ebersol know each other from being powerful players in the television industry. Ebersol helped create “Saturday Night Live” and oversaw NBC’s late-night programming; later as chairman of NBC Sports, he pioneered how the network covers the Olympics with dramatic flare.
“I was a mess,” Ebersol recalled. “Four or five days in, Susan said to me, ‘I want you to take this one phone call.’ It was Tom. He was calling to say they had this fabulous idea to memorialize Teddy.”
The couple’s hometown sits on the Mason-Dixon line where Red Sox Nation meets New York Yankee territory. Dick Ebersol and his oldest son rooted for the Evil Empire; Teddy chose to side with his mother and sister to cheer on Manny Ramirez and the lovable idiots.
Teddy “wanted to bug his father and his oldest brother. He loved being a smiling contrarian,” Ebersol said. “He became so crazed about the Red Sox. He could tell you any statistic under the sun.”
The Red Sox Foundation worked with then Governor Mitt Romney, whom Ebersol got to know when Romney rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The foundation led a multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign; Ebersol gave $500,000.
The three fields overlooking the Charles River by the Longfellow Bridge were in rough shape. The infusion of funds would ensure that this section of state park land would be forever maintained. The fields reopened in 2006, and today they are used for baseball, softball, and soccer. The state owns and manages the space, while a nonprofit run by the Sox foundation and community groups, the Esplanade Association and Hill House, pay for the upkeep.
“It was this loving relationship that grew up between us and the people of Boston,” said Ebersol.
In many ways, that’s why the Richard family is building a park on waterfront land that will be owned by the city. The park is meant not only to be a living tribute to Martin Richard but a gift to Boston for the incredible support the family has received.
The Richard family stood on Boylston Street at the Marathon finish line when the bombs went off. Martin was killed; his 6-year-old sister, Jane, lost a leg. Bill and his wife, Denise, were also injured. Their older son, Henry, then 11, witnessed the horror but escaped physical harm.
These days, Bill Richard spends his time running the Martin Richard Foundation he started with Denise to promote education, sports, and community. They also pour their energy into Martin’s Park, with the hope of breaking ground this summer and having it done next year.
Teddy’s fields on the Esplanade feature a granite bench with the words “Curse reversed. . . 2004.” One of Teddy’s gloves was bronzed and sits atop the bench. He lived long enough to see the Sox clinch their first World Series title in 86 years. He would die a month later.
“He would have been 27,” Ebersol said of Teddy today, “but he is forever 14.”