Death of Rory Richmond stuns Clayton, barbecue communities

Death of Rory Richmond stuns Clayton, barbecue communities

Death of Rory Richmond stuns Clayton, barbecue communities
Rory Richmond at the 2014 Clayton BBQ Cook Off, an event he helped expand throughout the years. (Linda Cruz photo)

CLAYTON, CA—The Clayton community was rocked by the Aug. 22 death of Rory Richmond, whom former Clayton City Councilman Keith Haydon called a “tireless community volunteer” and current Councilman C.W. Wolfe dubbed “one of the pearls of our city.”

From members of the Clayton Business & Community Association (CBCA) to representatives of the global Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), friends were stunned by Richmond’s sudden death at age 67. Although no official cause of death has been reported, it was “heart-related,” according to Rebecca “Becky” Lane, Richmond’s partner of 25 years.

The couple moved from Pittsburg to Clayton in 2006, at the “gentle urging” of Wolfe.

“Of course, I didn’t need to push them very hard,” Wolfe says. “They saw Clayton and fell in love with the town.”

“We just liked the vibe of Clayton,” says Lane.

Richmond, who was in the grocery business, had often visited the Safeway on Clayton and Kirker Pass roads, so he was familiar with the idea of Clayton’s strong sense of community. According to Wolfe, he jumped into his new community with both feet.

Early life

Richmond was born in Oceanside, the son of a Marine. He was the second of eight children, and the family moved to Tustin, in Orange County, where Richmond grew up and attended elementary, middle and high schools.

He then graduated from UC Riverside as a geology major. “Rory never saw a rock he wasn’t interested in,” says Lane.

He met Lane while living in Southern California. He eventually moved from his home in Huntington Beach to Northern California to live with Lane in Pittsburg.

“Even when he was living in Southern California, he was interested in festivals and events,” she says. “He would volunteer not knowing anyone or anything and just have a great time.”

From history to gardens

That enthusiasm transferred easily when they moved to Clayton. “What event did Rory not show up early and leave late?” asks CBCA president Steve Pierce. “Whether it was Oktoberfest, the Art and Wine Festival or the barbecue competition, Rory was there.”

Wolfe says Richmond was a quiet, stable presence who embraced the community. Besides CBCA, he was active in the Clayton Historical Society and the Clayton Valley Garden Club.

“He always had an interest in the history of Joel Clayton,” says Lane, “so it was natural he would get involved in the historical society. But I’m afraid it was me who pushed him into the garden club. We saw the booth at the farmers market one day, and since we were both pretty good gardeners, I thought they could use a guy to help out.”

To no one’s surprise, Richmond took to the garden club like a sunflower to sun, and he enjoyed his volunteer efforts there immensely, Lane says.

The experience was the same with the historical society, says first vice president JoAnn Caspar. “Rory never complained, and he helped us out when he knew we needed funds, like giving us free space at the barbecue festival or helping load plants into my car for the garden tour.

“I just felt like I was hit in the stomach when I heard he was gone,” she adds.

That seems to be a common sentiment, expressed on social media pages like Clayton Engaged, and especially with his friends, like Haydon. “Our hearts are broken with Rory’s passing. He will be greatly missed by our community.”

Barbecue master

Pierce says he became friends with Richmond while planning the small barbecue competition held behind the Clayton Club over a decade ago. The first years were tight, but soon the CBCA-sponsored event began to make money and draw barbecue teams from throughout the East Bay.

But Richmond had bigger ideas. An avid barbecue enthusiast, he wanted to make the festival big enough to be sanctioned by the KCBS, in which teams cook four meats and compete for more prize money. It was a huge undertaking, sparking Richmond’s profile higher in the community.

“Rory loved talking barbecue,” says Pierce. “It was his passion.”

At his own expense, Richmond traveled throughout California and the country, talking to barbecue teams, judges and businesses about how to create a stronger, larger festival – and coming to Clayton to compete.

Meanwhile, he helped organize judging classes in Endeavor Hall, which grew in popularity throughout the years.

“Rory was on top of things,” says renowned barbecue chef Donna Fong. “If there was a barbecue event in Northern California, Rory made every effort to attend. He knew the work it took to build something and was ready to make it happen.

“I’ve lost a friend I wanted to keep forever,” she says.

“Bonds and friendships that went beyond barbecue”

In 2016, Clayton held its first KCBS-sanctioned event. Rather than pack teams into the back of the Clayton Club, Richmond convinced the CBCA to use the spots designated for other major Clayton events, like the Art and Wine Festival.

“Rory Richmond was a true barbecue enthusiast and he made a permanent, positive impact on the Northern California barbecue community,” says Ian Schmidt, who is a Northern California KCBS representative along with his wife Julie Poe. “But more than that, he formed bonds and friendships that went beyond barbecue.”

That was echoed by friends from throughout the Bay Area. “Rory put the city of Clayton on the barbecue map,” says judge Scott Simpson of Antioch.

Clayton’s Steve Biggs, a barbecue competitor, agrees with Simpson. “Rory’s passion for BBQ was behind this, but the motivation was to raise money for the CBCA,” he says, noting that the 2019 event raised several thousand dollars for the organization.

Haydon and Pierce are working on ways to honor Richmond’s efforts in the community. Meanwhile, Lane says that services are pending due to the COVID-19 virus. “I know many people would want to come but funerals are limited to 20 people,” she says. “We may do a memorial or something next summer.

“The main thing is that Rory got back all he gave,” Lane says. “He loved this community, loved its energy. And he was just a really good guy.”

Richmond is survived by Lane, seven siblings and many friends throughout California.