By Carol McCracken
It’s a wonderful story. A story that needs to be dusted off and told from time to time. It’s about being a boxing champion, stumbling and then getting up and moving on. It’s also about a man who is not the stereotypical boxer – his name is Robert Richard and he’s a life long Hill resident.
It was disarming to meet Robert and his 15 year old cat Misty at his Munjoy Hill home on a recent hot day. For several reasons. Robert destroyed MHN’s image of a fighter – a real tough guy with a hard shell that doesn’t open up. He was the opposite. Then there was Misty, his fluffy lap seeking cat. Protruding over her upper lip is a bitty tooth. It stands out. It says: “Okay tough guys. Bring it on. I’m ready.”
When Robert (then Bob) entered the boxing ring in 1968-69, he was a teenager. During his one only amateur year, he had 19 fights. His manager was his then father-in-law and he practiced in a cellar at Kennedy Park. While still an amateur, he won the Maine State Amateur Championship in the Jr. Light Weight Division.
When he turned seventeen, Robert turned pro. That was in 1970. He also took on a new manager. He credits his training regimen and the skill he developed for the success he achieved in the boxing world. He traveled a lot around the east and loved meeting all the people he did. According to his newspaper clips, he was a real favorite with the crowds who saw him box. For about two months late in his pro career, Robert trained in Forestville, Maryland. There were about 40 boxers training there, so he never was lacking for a sparring partner. It was the same place where former World Champion Sugar Ray Leonard trained before he became champion. By 1976, Robert was ranked number 6th in the nation and number 10 in the world in the Jr. Light Weight Division – winning 28 professional fights.
But all his success and hard work came to an abrupt stop for Robert. He was knocked out in the 9th round of a 10 round fight here in Portland – before a home crowd – at the Portland Expo. “I got stopped. I was so embarrassed. It was disgusting to me,” he said, shaking his head. But he says in retrospect that he never should have fought that fight. At the time, he was mentally exhausted because he and his then wife were getting divorced. That was bad enough for him. The couple had two daughters. He quit the fight business for good. “I have good memories. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat,” he said.
For the past twenty-three years, Robert has worked for the Portland Public School system. The last four of them he’s worked as a custodian at the East End Community School on the Hill. His face lights up repeatedly as he talks about his work there with children and how much he loves his job. “I have a blast with the kids,” he said. “I get down to their physical level and look right at them face to face and talk to them. I even show them pictures of Misty,” he said. “East End School is a great place to work. It’s one big happy family.”
“I still run 3 or 4 times a week – two miles at a time. I also have a gym in the basement where I workout daily. I do wonder from time to time what life would be like if I continued boxing,” he said wistfully. But here is an articulate, caring man who is clearly at peace with his past and is enjoying life to its fullest these days.