Bill Richard: The moral compass of a city

Illustration by John Ritter for The Boston Globe

For more honorable mentions and the winning Bostonians of the Year, click on the drop-down list at the bottom of this article.
When Bill Richard sat down on the witness stand in federal court last March, many people in Boston tensed up: This was going to be hard.

The Boston Marathon bombings stole lives, limbs, and innocence, and no one lost more than Bill Richard. His 8-year-old son, Martin, was killed. His 6-year-old daughter, Jane, lost her leg. His wife, Denise, lost sight in one eye. His 11-year-old son, Henry, was left with invisible scars. And Bill Richard himself lost some of his hearing.


But he lost none of his dignity and perspective, and it was on full display the day he testified at the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Marathon bombers.

Richard talked about how a family tradition, heading from their Dorchester home to Back Bay to watch the runners on Patriots Day, turned into a family tragedy. He told of making the choice to leave the mortally wounded Martin on the sidewalk with Denise to get help for the badly wounded Jane, of trying to shield Henry’s eyes from the battlefield Boylston Street had become. He recalled the phone conversation with Denise, she at one hospital, he at another, when she told him Martin was dead.

While recounting his injuries, he added a caveat to his hearing loss. “I can still hear the beautiful voices of my family,” he said.

In an unexpected, ineffable way, Bill Richard’s transcendent grace comforted everyone in the courtroom, making them realize that the worst thing they could do in the face of such barbarism would be to lose any of their humanity.

After Tsarnaev was convicted, Richard and his wife asked that his life be spared, if for no other reason than that their kids could move on, without enduring years of endless appeals. Those who know the Richards know it was more than just that. Their lives are animated by the same ethos Richard explained on the witness stand that day, choosing life over death, choosing light over darkness, choosing all the right things for all the right reasons.

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Kevin Cullen is a Boston Globe columnist. Send comments to

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