Few men have influenced my life so much as Richard Riggins. He radiated something which made it impossible to merely say one liked him. One had to think of him in terms of love.
As a dirt poor boy in Charleston, Illinois, Richard went into a used book store and bought a dilapidated book for six cents. He took it home and stitched it together with a needle and thread his mother had. And that was his Bible for the next several years.
When Richard talked about the Bible, he made you want to find a quiet corner and read it. He communicated his love of the word. You accepted that love as valid and were inspired to possess it for yourself.
One time Richard was meeting with a young couple he was soon to marry. The young man asked, “Is there anything we should read before we get married?” Richard replied, “Yes, read the Bible. You have three months.”
As a younger man, he was a force of nature. When he was speaking, his jet black hair fell down in his face, he worked his mouth so hard his lips turned purple, and his arms flailed. He was the only man who could comb his hair, clean his glasses, and blow his nose during a talk, and make it all seem perfectly natural–vintage Richard.
He was an artist painting a biblical fresco, like Michelangelo, strapped to his scaffold and hurling tremendous brushstrokes onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His attention to detail was staggering. He could take a verse of the Bible and pull out thread after thread.
Richard saw a world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. He had a keen intellect and enormous curiosity. In college, he read a book a day for three years. He had an amazing ability to concentrate, and when doing it, he lived in an interior world.
Wilford Landes told me that one time he was taking Richard somewhere. He heard a mumbling from the passenger seat. He said “I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’. Richard said, ‘I’m supposed to teach the book of Hebrews, and I don’t have time to study it, so I’m memorizing it.’”
Years ago I asked him a question. It was months before I saw him again. When I did see him, he met me in the congested center aisle of a meetinghouse. Amidst lots of people and lots of noise, with no prompting from me, Richard began answering my question from months earlier. It seemed that none of our surroundings existed for him. He was fully focused on answering the question. And I thought, “Man, this is the coolest guy in the world.”
Richard took the Lord’s work with the seriousness it deserves. Over forty years ago he had the responsibility for a certain congregation. I was holding a meeting there. About halfway through my Sunday morning speech, Richard walked in and sat down. I never did know why he was so late. But I had the impression when he came in that he had been in the entryway listening to what I was teaching when I didn’t know he was there. If so, that was a very wise and responsible thing for him to do.
Richard was instant in season and out of season. On one occasion he was called on to help with a troubled situation in a congregation. It was one of those things that nobody prefers to be involved in. Richard had already passed his threescore years and ten. He had a lot of trouble hearing. His wife was in ill health. He could have used several excuses not to go do that work. But when he was called on, his immediate response was five words: “Tell me when and where.”
After I’d been in the work long enough to get knocked down a few times, and had been working in some problem places, I said to Richard, “I hope you live a long time, because I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the church when your generation is gone.” I won’t say he looked at me with disdain. But he did look at me with those piercing eyes of his, and as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, he said, “Well, the young men will just have to grow strong in the Lord, that’s all.” And I knew he was right.
I heard him say once that “there are no great men in Jesus, but there are men in whom Jesus is great.” I agree with that, and I say that if you knew Richard Riggins, you brushed with greatness. Jesus Christ lived in him.
Richard united the simplicity of a child with the dignity of an ambassador. I called him Tychicus, because Tychicus delivered the Ephesian letter. More than any other man, Richard delivered the Ephesian letter to my generation. And no one will ever be able to take that away from him.
This world will be a lot less interesting to me without Richard in it. It will go on without him, though not as well. This humble, unassuming man went way beyond what some thought him capable of, and somehow pulled it off. I found that extremely inspiring and endearing. There is no way to convey the loss. I have known no better man.