• Approximately 15% of people have dyslexia
• That translates to over 30 million adults in the United States.
• Many don’t know they are dyslexic.
• Men and women are equally likely to have dyslexia
Dyslexia was a four-letter word when John Richardson grew up. Or was it eight letters?
The future Fort Worth pediatrician had no idea. All he knew was that reading and spelling did not come easily, a common characteristic of the learning disorder.
“My problem was mainly reading and spelling,” says Richardson, 85, who remembers struggling through school and textbooks during his Fort Worth upbringing.
Richardson met the challenge and became one of the city’s most beloved physicians, a tireless advocate for children and the challenges they face.
From 1964 to 2007, countless boys and girls walked into his Sixth Avenue pediatric office, almost as many as he served as the only staff physician for the Edna Gladney Home, now known as the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth.
He served that role for 29 years while maintaining a private pediatric practice.
But tending to children’s medical needs only touched on the impact Richardson would have on North Texas, an achievement that The Stayton at Museum Way celebrated as part of this year’s National Senior Citizens Day. Richardson joined other residents at the Fort Worth retirement community honored for their local contributions.
“I suppose I’ve made some impact, so yes, it’s nice to be well thought of,” says Richardson, retired from pediatric practice but active on several volunteer boards and in educating young minds about dyslexia.
As a young boy, Richardson knew he was different. “I didn’t try to hide it. I could not spell and still cannot spell.”
The future doctor said he pulled through school by listening and taking extra time to study.
“When I came to college, anytime I had a blue book quiz, I knew my grade was two letters,” Richardson says of the essay and multiple choice portions of the test. “If it was multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank, I could do OK.”
Richardson did well enough to graduate Paschal High School before earning a bachelor of science degree from Texas Wesleyan College in 1957 and a medical degree from the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Branch in Dallas in 1961.
While serving his residency at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, dyslexia reared its head again, but in a positive way. Working under Dr. Lucius Waites, whose research and treatment of the disorder gained worldwide attention, opened Richardson’s eyes to the condition. He realized that many of his Fort Worth patients exhibited symptoms of the disorder and he vowed to help them.
So Richardson shared his dyslexia insights at several PTA meetings.
“Every mother in the audience would say, ‘That’s what’s wrong with my kid!’” Richardson says.
Determined to help, Richardson made time to conduct dyslexia testing. Those evening sessions came after already exhausting days that began by seeing 35 babies each morning for the Edna Gladney Center before seeing his own patients.
His mission was training mothers to become tutors for dyslexic children.
“Back in the ‘60s, women would major in elementary education and teach for a year or two and get married and have a baby and stop teaching for four or five years. So a lot of them had a good elementary education background and were anxious to do some tutoring,” Richardson says.
So Richardson sent them to Scottish Rite for dyslexia training. One of those individuals was Mary Ann Key, who trained before joining Richardson in launching The Key School in 1966. The Fort Worth school continues to serve children with dyslexia and other language disorders.
Meanwhile, Richardson’s Fort Worth office became a book repository of sorts when an Oklahoma publishing company sent copies of Phonetic Keys to Reading to his practice. The company would not sell the teaching aide to individuals, only to physicians such as Richardson and school systems.
“So my office turned into a warehouse for manuals that I’d order for the tutors,” Richardson says.
Despite such extracurricular passions, Richardson’s primary practice did not suffer. In fact, more families brought their boys and girls to a pediatrician whose days seemingly exceeded 24 hours.
“I probably saw 45 kids on an average day,” says Richardson, whose days began at 6:15 a.m. by visiting up to 35 babies at Edna Gladney before visiting others during his 7 a.m. hospital rounds. And that was before arriving at 9 a.m. for a full day’s work at his office.
“We never rushed. I always looked at the whole ear, for example, not just the part of the ear that hurt,” says Richardson, crediting his nurses and administrative staff for helping the practice survive.
“The nurse would write out an instruction sheet and go over it with the mom while I was washing my hands in the next room. We’d just leapfrog,” Richardson says.
And that applied to writing prescriptions, as well.
“The nurses wrote the prescriptions and I signed them,” says Richardson, praising the five registered nurses who shared his considerable workload.
As if running a private pediatric practice, caring for babies at Edna Gladney, and shepherding a dyslexia tutor resource weren’t enough, Richardson found time for even more endeavors.
Not only did he co-found The Key School, but he served the same role at The WARM Place in Fort Worth, which opened in 1989 to provide children grief support. Richardson conceived the resource after a friend’s daughter struggled to cope with the loss of her older brother to cancer.
Richardson also helped launch what became known as the Baby Moses Law, which allows an individual to confidentially and safely drop off his or her baby at any hospital or fire station without fear of prosecution.
And as a board member of the Fort Worth Zoo and a Cook Children’s Hospital trustee emeritus, he spearheaded a low-cost immunization drive at the zoo.
Eight years after retiring, Richardson remains busy. He continues to serve on the Key School Inc.’s board of directors and the Fort Worth Zoo board. But perhaps his greatest passion lines the walls of his eighth floor Stayton apartment.
“I’m interested in works on paper,” said Richardson, pointing to the many paintings and lithographs filling seemingly every square inch of wall space. “I love art, always have.”
That passion began when Richardson and his wife Joan raised three daughters and a son. Their nest eventually emptied, and John and Joan moved into The Stayton three years ago.
“I think I’ve got one of the best ones in the complex, the best view,” said Richardson, gazing toward downtown from his living room.
The apartment seems even more spacious these days as Richardson adjusts to life without Joan. She succumbed to breast cancer with brain metastasis in June. The couple shared 62 years of marriage.
The doctor’s home seems less empty with Sweetie wagging his tail. The pug entered John and Joan’s life 11 years ago and continues to provide companionship for John.
“My wife said he looked so much like our older dog, who had the same name, so let’s just call him Sweetie, too,” Richardson says.
Richardson plans to continue collecting art, visiting the Amon Carter Museum and giving back to the community by serving on boards.
“I’m blessed. I had a good practice, good friends, a loving family. I can’t complain.”