Whether serving on a Newton citizens committee for equal housing opportunities or bringing corned beef sandwiches and messages of hope to inmates in prisons, Ed Richmond was there for those in need.
“Throughout his life, he expressed a deep appreciation for all that this country had provided. His parents arrived from Russia with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and he marveled at the tremendous opportunities that his family found here,” his son Stephen of Sudbury said.
His father’s “driving force,” he added, was a belief that “we all have an obligation to give back to our communities and help those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Mr. Richmond, a lawyer who formerly chaired the Newton Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee for eight years, died from complications of dementia Oct. 21 in Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle in Brighton. He was 90 and had lived for more than 30 years in Brookline, where he had been a Town Meeting member.
“Ed relished his role as Finance Committee chairman. He really loved that job,” said Lisle Baker, a president emeritus of the Newton Board of Aldermen. “He was prepared, conscientious, and caring, and a person you could talk to and an important part of what made government work.”
Elected to seven consecutive terms as alderman, Mr. Richmond drafted and cosponsored the ordinances that created Newton’s Cultural Affairs Commission. He served on the board from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s, and then decided to devote more time to his law practice, from which he retired in 1996. He had been an attorney at firms in Boston before opening a private practice in Newton in 1979.
The late Theodore D. Mann, who was then Newton’s mayor, once said in a testimonial citation that Mr. Richmond had successfully steered and guided the city through “many changing and financially troublesome times,” and that he built a philosophy based on the wisdom to know what is right, the courage to know when to act, “and an instinct to know what is best for the common good.”
In an unpublished memoir, which Mr. Richmond said he had “a helluva good time writing,” he described his efforts with the Newton Committee for Fair Housing and Equal Rights in the 1960s and ’70s. The group, he wrote, was dedicated to ensuring that minorities should have equal access to housing in the city.
“If a black person felt he had been discriminated against, we would send ‘testers’ (i.e. white men or women) to see if they could rent or buy the property in question,” Mr. Richmond recalled. “If we found discrimination we would assist” in filing a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint.
In his role as the fair housing committee’s chairman, Mr. Richmond petitioned the Board of Aldermen to study the need for low-income housing in Newton, which led to a policy that required developers to set aside 10 percent of housing units for that purpose.
“It was these activities that ultimately resulted in my running for alderman,” he wrote.
Mr. Richmond was also on the executive board of the Newton Community Peace Center and a member of the board of governors at the New Art Center in Newton.
At Temple Israel of Boston, Mr. Richmond chaired the Social Action Committee, served on its board of trustees, and taught seventh-grade ethics at its religious school.
As an offshoot from the Social Action Committee, Mr. Richmond and others formed the Rehabilitation Services Committee, which made visits to inmates and led to one of his most memorable and gratifying cases as a lawyer. One prison’s Jewish chaplain asked him to represent an inmate who had killed a man in a restaurant — an attack after what Mr. Richmond called “a senseless argument over a salt shaker.”
The man had been determined to be not mentally fit for trial and was incarcerated for 36 years. Mr. Richmond got the case reviewed, and the defendant was found to be mentally competent and no longer a danger to others. The charge was reduced to manslaughter, which had a shorter sentence than the one already served, and he was freed.
“As we left the courthouse and walked along Tremont Street in Boston, it was like walking with Rip Van Winkle,” Mr. Richmond recalled. “He wrote to me several times and thanked me for getting him out of prison, for finding him a home, and that he was enjoying life. . . . It was a sad and touching case.”
Born and raised in Roxbury, Edward L. Richmond was a son of Herman Richmond and the former Rhoda Beggelman. His parents were immigrants who, while in Russia, had lived in houses with dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity.
Mr. Richmond graduated from Boston College High School in 1943. He enrolled at Boston College but left to join the Navy.
He served from 1944 to 1946 and then joined the Navy Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant.
Returning to Boston College after the Navy, he completed his undergraduate degree in 1948. He received a master’s degree in history and government from BC in 1949 and graduated from Boston College Law School in 1959.
Mr. Richmond’s first marriage ended in divorce.
In 1984, he married Lisa Liss. “They were constantly in motion and were always traveling and each trip generated new stories, which Ed loved to share,” his son Stephen said in a eulogy, adding that “their lives were full of adventure and laughter.”
Stephen said that when Mr. Richmond was looking for his first job in the legal world, he “took a lot of elevators to a lot of offices and knocked on a lot of doors” before being hired by Ganz, Ham & Brancucci. Mr. Richmond also had been a partner at Bloom, Deutsch, Richmond, Rosenwald & Drachman.
Because he had considered a career in engineering and was familiar with reading blueprints, one of his specialties was construction litigation. He also volunteered in probate courts to help “indigent people to file papers and assist them in legal procedures,” he wrote.
A service has been held for Mr. Richmond, who in addition to his wife, Lisa, and son Stephen leaves another son, William, of Madison, Conn.; a daughter, Angel, of Winchester; a stepdaughter, Erica Liss of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a brother, Yale, of Washington, D.C.; and nine grandchildren.
Burial was in Chevra Mishnias Cemetery in Woburn.
In his eulogy, Stephen said his father “taught the importance of community involvement and he had an amazing commitment to work that would improve his society. He cared deeply for all of his children and grandchildren and was always reaching out to check in, get the news, keep in touch.
“He sent the strong message that he was proud of every one of us and often said, ‘I am only as happy as my least happy kid.’ ”