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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Allen B. Richardson, UH Wahine team doctor, dead at 56

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Dr. Allen B. Richardson, a gifted surgeon whose reassuring presence warmed the Rainbow Wahine bench as team physician for 25 years, died Monday.

Richardson, 56, had been battling cancer.

His loss was mourned by those who knew him personally and professionally. For most, it was both. That is how Richardson approached his work, particularly as a volunteer at the University of Hawai'i.

"What I liked so much is that he felt like I did," said Dr. Ralph Hale, who asked Richardson to assist with the Rainbow Wahine in 1979. "It was like he was taking care of family and he always did what was best for the athlete, not only in their immediate athletic environment, but also for their future.

"It will be a tremendous loss. There are not very many people of Allen's capabilities, dedication, willingness and interest."

Richardson, a 1965 Punahou graduate, received his B.A. degree from Yale and attended UCLA's School of Medicine. He stayed in Southern California for his internship and residency.

He and his wife, Olympic gold medalist Pokey Watson Richardson, were both age-group swimmers. While she coached the USC swim team, he trained for a year at the renowned Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, concentrating on athletic injuries and coming in on the cutting edge of arthroscopic surgery. That "solidified" his decision to pursue sports medicine as a career, according to Pokey.

Later, he referred former UH All-American and Olympian Deitre Collins to the respected clinic. Athletes made it a habit of calling him after their careers were over because, as UH trainer Melody Toth put it, "He was internationally renowned — he knew everyone and everyone knew him."

Besides, Richardson encouraged them to keep in touch.

"My career lasted much longer than I could have ever imagined because of him," said Collins, now UNLV's coach. "I lasted until I was 31. That's pretty good considering I had a surgery every year of my career at Hawai'i. I got to know him pretty well."

Richardson joined UH as an orthopedic consultant and team physician in time for volleyball's first national championship in 1979, and never left. He was also a partner, and ultimately president, at Orthopedic Services of Hawai'i, and Chairman and Director of the Orthopedic Residency Training Program at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Richardson was active in international swimming, attending six Olympics and serving as sports medicine chair for the U.S. team and Federation Internationale Natacione Amateur (FINA).

All his sports medicine exploits came about "serendipitously," according to Pokey. He got involved with international swimming initially because he joined her on a trip. Ultimately, he was instrumental in the sport's medicine and drug testing programs.

"He was very methodical and logical and detailed," Pokey recalled. "He asked the U.S. Swimming office for reports from the last trip, a list of medications for the athletes. They didn't have anything like that.

"He came back and wrote a very thorough report. U.S. Swimming went, 'Oh my God, wow.' It saw his vision of how it could be and asked him to create the sports medicine department."

The Rainbows knew to respect Richardson as a physician and surgeon and appreciate his quick, clear analyses of injuries. They grew to respect him as a friend, realizing quickly that his gentle, comforting demeanor was as genuine as his interest in their well-being.

"He was handsome, he was kind, and just calming and reassuring," Collins said. "Not once did I ever fear going into surgery and not once did I consider my career being over because of surgery. That's just the comfort he gave me."

Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji shared a passion for golf with Richardson, who took trips to Scotland and Ireland to play legendary courses.

But his most compelling legacy in a life of remarkable success might be that wonderful demeanor, particularly in times of trauma.

"He was truly one of the nicest people I'll ever know," his wife said. "He had a really nice, gentle demeanor that facilitated people working together. He was a very pro-active individual who could look at any situation and come up with a plan to deal with it positively. That's how he handled this entire cancer process. He was diagnosed five years ago this month. He handled it with great dignity and grace, moving forward one step at a time, going forward as much as he could."

The Richardsons have three children. Andrew is a senior on the Cal water polo team. Annie is a Division III All-American and Academic All-American in water polo at Claremont-McKenna. Puna is a freshman volleyball player at St. John's.

Services will be Sunday at Kawaiaha'o Church, following the 4:30 p.m. family visitation. UH is planning a tribute at tomorrow's volleyball match.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8043