By Patricia Cantor and Roland Richardson
Louis Emmanuel Richardson, a man whose greatest passion was flying, has taken wing and soared to the gates of Heaven. As befitting a man of great honour and integrity, he passed quietly in his sleep in his Marigot childhood home.
He was a remarkable and accomplished individual imbued with great humility; a true Caribbean man descended from a mélange of Old French, English, Spanish and Dutch settlers mingled with African and the indigenous Indian of the Caribbean.
Louis’ French-Caribbean linage began with a Royal Knight sent by the King of France to construct Fort Louis over 300 years ago. As the family grew over the centuries, they became an integral part of the island’s culture and historical evolution. Louis Richardson was one of the finest, most accomplished members of that lineage.
Awarded Le Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite from the French National Government for his service to the island and France, Louis’ legacy is that of a hero of old. He embodied the noble principles so important in this world: elegance, bravery, chivalry, and honour. His demeanour was that of a true individual.
A man of the world, his life was filled with countless friends collected from all corners of the earth. These lifelong fellowships, whether old or new, added such joy and rich texture to his life – and one felt privileged to have known him.
Born in Marigot in 1923, Louis emerged into the world with a boundless sense of curiosity and wonder. He was a true Renaissance man, a creative entrepreneur, and public servant, always on the cusp of emerging technology. Louis grew up in a world where survival depended on creativity and a pioneer spirit.
As a child, he earned money by butchering meat and helping to make bread, butter and charcoal. Louis installed St. Martin’s first telephone lines. He was a partner in the first electrical company providing light to Marigot, where customers were charged by the number of bulbs they owned.
He was the first person to bring French cars, Renault and Peugeot, to St. Martin and the island’s first agent for Pepsi Cola. He was an engineer, pilot, plumber, accountant, teacher, fireman, architect, electrician and more.
He owned a sewing machine and knew how to use it. He could make jewellery, furniture, and even parts for his beloved car. His talents and intelligence were boundless.
He recalled, “One day, M’ma found me upstairs with my father’s pocket watch completely disassembled and spread all over the table. And she says, ‘When your father sees this, he is going to whip your behind!’ But I told her not to worry and I put it all back together, and it worked, Thank God!”
Among Louis Richardson’s most treasured accomplishments was to assist in the founding of WinAir and to help establish St. Martin’s first flying club. More than anything in the world, taking to the air was Louis’ true passion. Over the decades, he immersed himself in all aspects of aviation.
His deep love of flying was ignited as a little boy in Marigot when a plane from Martinique flew over his house to deliver a visitor. He promised himself that one day he would fly. While he did soon learn to fly, duty to family and country prevented him from ever obtaining his formal flying license.
Prior to his formal entry into aviation, Louis gathered as much education as was possible in the old Caribbean days. Up until age 12, he attended the local St. Martin school. After acquiring a scholarship, he was able to complete several more years of education in Guadeloupe.
One of the most useful educational tools he acquired during this time was learning Morse code; a skill that was to serve him and the island well.
When World War II broke out, Louis was denied his request to join the French Air Force in order to obtain his formal flying license. Instead, he was ordered to stay because he was the only person on island who knew Morse code and cable transmission.
It was a critical position as German submarines plied the waters attacking vessels carrying oil from South American and Caribbean refineries.
Louis, at the age of 20, helped locate and direct rescue teams toward downed Allied pilots and seamen from torpedoed ships. He often composed telegrams for those who couldn’t write, and would read them to those who were illiterate. He never divulged their content to anyone else – a fact that gained him a reputation of integrity and trustworthiness.
After the War, Louis continued as radio operator while feeding his passion for flying. Aviation on St. Martin/St. Maarten was taking a new direction. In 1945, Princess Juliana Airport opened on the Dutch-side while Flat Island (Tintamare) became the French-side’s aviation hub.
The colourful Remy De Haenen was a French aviation entrepreneur who created CAA Airlines and became the first pilot to land on St. Barths.
Louis Richardson was the airline’s mechanic, radio equipment repair expert, and had the responsibility of alerting passengers when planes landed at PJIA.
More than ever, Louis wanted to learn to fly, but flying lessons were expensive and money was not available. So, just as he taught himself how to drive a car (without his mother’s permission), he taught himself to fly.
He would “hitch-hike” on cargo planes to Puerto Rico to take official lessons with the pilots. He never attained his formal license. There was no money or time for them, so he continued his informal training by flying the Caribbean with licensed pilots to French Guyana, Curaçao, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Martinique and Guadeloupe. During this time, he acted as mechanic and co-pilot.
Despite his lack of a formal licensing, Louis participated in the creation of the island’s only flight school: The Aero Club. Purchasing a kit shipped from Curaçao, he built his own plane and was the first to fly it. And when he did, he wasn’t sure how or if he could land it!
In 1950, Flat Island ceased its aviation operations when a major hurricane destroyed the island. The remains of planes and airport buildings are visible on the island to this day.
In the early 60s, Richardson had a vision of a local airline to connect the neighbouring islands. In those days, sailing was the only way to visit friends and family. Together with Chester Wathey, Louis journeyed to Guadeloupe to introduce Bob Halley and the airport manager responsible for oversight of aviation. In only a day, WinAir was created.
Starting with just one plane, they began flights to St. Barths, Anguilla, and St. Kitts/Nevis, the only nearby islands with airports. Today, WinAir connects St. Martin/St. Maarten to an extensive network of islands throughout the whole Caribbean.
Louis Richardson was also a family man, and is remembered by his two children, seven grandchildren, and five great grand-children.
The artist, Sir Roland Richardson, is his son from his first marriage to Elvia Lawrence of Grand Case. Nikki Richardson is his daughter from his second marriage to Hyacinth (Cynthie) Richardson.
In his later years, Louis and Cynthie lived a peaceful existence atop Pic Paradis in a house they designed and built overlooking the magnificent mountains of St. Martin with Princess Juliana International Airport visible in the distance.
From morning to night, Louis indulged his passion for all things aviation right from his terrace. He even kept a special frequency aircraft radio on all day to hear the pilots as they ascended and descended.
He never stopped dreaming.
Louis Richardson lived his remarkable life to its fullest. As Sir Roland Richardson said in his father’s eulogy, “My father was and will remain in memory as a man of high and unbending integrity with a genuine smile and an endless treasure trove of jokes and stories. He was a man of courage, a true Saint Martin hero. He has left his mark through his example, quiet and humble, generous and friendly. He left his community better off for his having been among us. His passing is like a library that has closed its doors forever.”