Richard Lee Austin

Published 3:33 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2019

PORTSMOUTH — Several years ago, the chancel door of Historic St Luke’s in Smithfield needed some attention. The curator, Richard Lee Austin, was wheeled down from the administration offices in his wheelchair, a necessity due to a stroke. Holding on to the cane he would use when he arrived, a six-year-old girl regarded him with his silvery white hair and beard and innocently inquired, “are you three hundred years old, too?” In his gentlemanly Southside Tidewater accent, he responded, “yeesss,” no doubt pleasing both the little girl and her father with his kind response.

On Sunday July 14, 2019 in his residence in Portsmouth, a the chapter of life closed on this man who considered himself “Grumpy” in the cast of movie characters; but who charmed thousands of people for years with his graciousness. “Dick” was born in Suffolk on Aug. 9, 1935 to William Carroll Austin Sr. and Mary Alice Rose. He was predeceased by two sisters, Evelyn Kay Russell and Alice Pauline Austin, and one brother, William Carroll Austin Jr. He is survived by one sister, Marianne Austin DeHart; and a brother, Roy Thomas Austin; and seven nieces and nephews.

Beginning as a reporter for the Suffolk Times Herald, the Portsmouth Star and, lastly, the Daily Press, Austin eventually found himself as the curator for Historic St Luke’s Church for more than 24 years. The church was a place he had attended as a summertime worship spot, even attending Sunday school classes in an area below the floor which is now bricked over. His lifelong love of the Old Brick Church, its early people, and the twisting relationships of kinship and friends, was his identity. His own roots are intertwined with many of the families in the original graveyard. He was vigilant in protecting the church, its collection of 17th century English and American church furniture and appointments. Central focus for most of his tenure was the care and protection of the antique organ. Under his watch, the organ’s identity was discovered, and a rich musical, political and family history was connected to the church.

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A memorial service and internment at Historic St Luke’s Church is planned for late August.