At the base of a maple tree in a small garden in Boston’s Bay Village, Richard Cross carved a tiny red door.
Neighbors say the carving was symbolic of the attention to detail he poured into making Bay Village a better place to live. Mr. Cross was the de-facto caretaker of the garden, which was a few doors down from his home, and friends often saw him working there or just sitting quietly.
In Bay Village, he was known for fixing the flower boxes of neighbors without being asked and lending assistance to those who accidentally locked themselves out of their homes. So many passersby stopped and chatted with him about neighborhood goings-on that he became a town crier of sorts, friends said.
Mr. Cross, who formerly taught accounting at Bentley University for nearly four decades, died Dec. 20 of injuries from an automobile accident in Burlington that is still under investigation, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. He was 70.
A passenger in his car, Aphrodite Rahilly, 88, of Boston, also died in the crash. Friends said Mr. Cross was running an errand with her when the accident occurred.
“You know how you meet people who really stand out in your life? He was one of those guys,” said Leslie Colburn, a longtime neighbor.
“He was pretty complex,” Colburn said. “He was steadfast, he had a real sense of duty and loyalty, and he was really generous with his time and his talent. And he did just about everything really quietly, and without any fuss or fanfare.”
Mr. Cross retired from Bentley in 2008. During commencement ceremonies that year he “presided in his longtime role as ceremonial marshal,” the university said on its website.
“Through exemplary teaching, fair and rigorous course work, and a deep commitment to students, Dick furthered academic and professional success for scores of Bentley graduates,” the university said.
Often using wry humor to convey basic accounting principles to Bentley students, Mr. Cross emphasized concepts by using catchphrases such as “debit what you get, credit what you give.”
During his office hours, students stopped by for help with assignments and were just as likely to ask for guidance about their future careers.
“He got along with them, but was also very stern with them,” said Sean McLaughlin of Somerville, a former student.
When students asked about an assignment, McLaughlin said, Mr. Cross would say: “ ‘Start at the beginning.’ Then he’d say, ‘Read the problem.’ And you’d read the problem. It’s the way he said things that made you remember them.”
Richard Leon Cross was born in Bradford, Maine, and graduated from Bangor High School, about 20 miles south of Bradford.
Growing up, he was “quite serious most of the time,” said his sister, Ladonna of Bangor. “He was quite studious.”
She said a high school bookkeeping instructor piqued his interest in accounting.
After high school, Mr. Cross moved to Massachusetts to attend what was then called Bentley College. He graduated with an associate’s degree in accounting in 1962 and a bachelor’s degree in 1966.
Mr. Cross, who also graduated from Northeastern University with a master’s in business administration, worked for three years in the Boston office of the accounting firm Ernst & Young as a staff auditor before joining Bentley’s faculty in 1969, according to the university.
Over the years at Bentley he served as head of the accountancy department and on numerous committees. After he retired, the university honored him by creating the Richard L. Cross Fund for Excellence in Accountancy Education.
“True to his calling, Professor Cross maintained a detailed log of the students who have filled his classroom through the years,” the university said in its statement. “The compilation [known simply as “The Book”] lists some 11,200 individuals, with the attendance date and grade for each student.”
Friends in Bay Village said few neighbors knew much about his lengthy and accomplished academic career.
“Richard defined what makes a great neighbor: the quiet person who is always doing things that are helpful, unasked for,” said longtime neighbor Alexander Bok.
Mr. Cross’s home had large windows that offered an expansive view of the neighborhood he worked so hard to preserve.
“Richard was never intrusive,” said Bok’s daughter, Kenzie. “It always felt like he was keeping an eye out for us, and you’d only notice when it mattered.”
Mr. Cross, she added, would often let her know where her relatives had headed, saying things like, “Your dad just ran around the corner to buy milk,” or “I saw your sister leave 20 minutes ago.”
Other than his sister, Mr. Cross left no immediate family.
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Wilder Pavilion in the Adamian Academic Center on the Bentley University campus. His family held a private committal service at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor.
“I’d say that most of the people who knew him and benefited from his help and generosity really had no idea of the extent of the web of his good deeds,” Colburn said.Emma Stickgold
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