Leslie & Forest Richardson

The Wisdom of Tradition

LeslieForestRichardson 1017by Nina Greenplate   
Photography provided by
Leslie Richardson

There is beauty in the ocean’s movement, where the ebb follows the flow, and the back and fourth is an understanding—an experience, which is lovely to witness. Such was my time with Leslie Richardson and her daughter, Forest. Like an outsider, welcomed in on a beautiful secret, I felt privileged to be part of this comfortable conversation. Leslie video conferenced Forest, a senior at Wake Forest University, to begin our time together. This family’s Hilton Head Island roots date back to both William Hilton and Charles Fraser, when in 1955, Leslie’s in-law’s purchased land that eventually became Coligny Plaza. More development followed, which helped grow and shape the island into what we enjoy today. That proud history lends itself well to this family’s love of tradition, where it’s woven into the very fabric of how they live. “When you follow your own traditions,” says Leslie, “you lay the roots down for your family. It becomes their very foundation.”

A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, Leslie met her husband of 28 years,  JR, on Hilton Head, while vacationing with friends. Together they raised Forest, and her two older brothers, James and Collins. They instilled in them the importance of representing themselves with calm certainty and looking their best. This presents self-confidence and a sense of ‘being present’ in the world around them. She brought me a photo of her three children. “My children are happy,” Leslie smiled. Immediately Forest remarks, “Well look who raised us!”  An exchange so genuine, it paused my pen and my thinking for a moment. Ebb and Flow in motion. Leslie smiled, then explained they were raised with unconditional love, but also made aware of the rules and boundaries to be followed.

Expectations of fun traditions often bring comfort, as was the case with the Richardson’s family dinners growing up. They were a regular occurrence in their home, and friends were always welcome. “We were actually excited for them,” Forest remembers. Leslie refers to the dinners as the best part of her day and explains how they were a two-part favorite. “First is the actual dinner, where we ask about everyone’s day,” she explains. “Then comes bedtime where we tucked them in for more one-on-one time.”  Being truly interested in what was happening in their lives was an expression of love and support. Forest agreed.

Her mothers’ gift of time and attention to her children was not only a wonderful way to model behavior for them, but was also how she treated the community she loves so much. Past and present involvement includes, but is not limited to: chairwoman of the Heritage Library; board member of Coastal Discovery Museum; one of the first 100 members of Women in Philanthropy; assisting with the “350/50” celebration; hosting multiple fundraising events like the Wine Auction in support of the arts. Leslie was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce, a fact her very proud daughter shared with me. Forest laughed as she reminded her busy mother of her fun title, Fundraising Queen. To which Leslie agreed, in that she believes the key is getting people involved. “If you want to fund-raise, you must also ‘friend-raise,” she said. An organization close to Leslie’s heart is the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. She refers to it as the island’s crown jewel, where every child has the opportunity to artistically express themselves.

Very similar is Forest’s love for her university, which reflects her dedication to its rich traditions. She co-chair’s an elite group of 34 members called The Traditions Council, where 15 years ago, it began its mission to promote and uphold campus customs. Other projects fill her time, including “Hey Day,” “The Spirit of Wake Forest” and Wake-and-Shake, a dance marathon that raised more than $300,000 for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund. As an honor student with a heart for service, you might assume extra time would be at a minimum. But Forest recalls her mom’s sage advice and model of time management. “Time in the Margin” is what Leslie and Forest call a segment of time that can be filled with something meaningful. Even with a small period of extra time, Forest will visit a friend across campus, or create a calligraphy note for someone. She calls this intentional time.  “If you give of your time, it means that you care. And if you care, you can get it done.” A sentiment clearly shared by her mother.

Just as there is comfort in familiar traditions, there too is comfort in the predictable movement of the ocean. Easy and wonderful to experience, like the love between a mother and daughter who finish one another’s sentences.

Up Close:

Sunrise—Sunset Family
Leslie and Forest: Each night, the family celebrates the setting sun. They pause to enjoy the spectacle of color, sharing photos when not together

Current Book Love:

Leslie: The 100 Story Home by Kathy Izard
Forest: Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

Come Sail Away:

Leslie: July 1, 1989, opened SC Yacht Club with her husband, JR.
13.1 Miles!
Forest: Ran first half-marathon

Act of Love:

Leslie: Per Forest’s request, Leslie created a keepsake book, filled with her motherly advice.