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Jon Richardson, son of Panthers owner, dies at 53

Joseph Person and Jonathan Jones
jperson@charlotteobserver.com

Jon Richardson, the oldest son of Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, the team announced.

He was 53.

Richardson served as the president of what is now known as Bank of America Stadium from the team’s inception until his resignation in 2009.

Jon Richardson, whose full name was Jerome Johnson Richardson Jr., had successfully battled cancer while he worked for the Panthers. But the disease returned, and its effects required him to use a wheelchair.

Funeral arrangements are pending and are being handled by Harry & Bryant Co.

Richardson and his brother, Mark, resigned abruptly from high-ranking positions with the team on Sept. 1, 2009, seven months after Jerry Richardson received a heart transplant. As team president, Mark was viewed as the likely successor to his father, while Jon was the stadium operations director.

The brothers remained part of the ownership group but maintained a low profile after their resignations. They were seldom, if ever, spotted at games.

“We are very saddened to learn of the passing of Jon Richardson,” the organization said in a statement. “He was a great friend of many people throughout the organization and played an integral role in the history of the Panthers in the building of Bank of America Stadium. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Richardson family.”

In addition to his father and brother, he is survived by his wife, Kathleen; son, Johnson; daughters, Rose and Claire; mother, Rosalind; and sister, Ashley Allen.

In June, Jerry Richardson, in addition to donating $10 million for naming rights to UNC Charlotte’s football stadium, endowed a scholarship in Jon’s name to the university. Jon’s son, Johnson, is the tight ends coach for the 49ers.

“That is from my wife and me. He deserves it,” Jerry Richardson said at a news conference announcing the naming rights.

Former Panthers officials and players remembered Jon Richardson as a humble man who – despite his position and his family’s standing in the community – lacked pretense.

“If you want to say your average Joe, that’s what Jon was,” former team president Mike McCormack said in a phone interview from his home in California. “He was just a joy to be around, fun to work with. He was a guy who enjoyed life, which is even more important now.”

Mark Fields, a Panthers linebacker from 2002-2004, said Richardson was a low-key, behind-the-scenes official, but the two shared a common bond.

Fields was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was with Carolina. Richardson would occasionally leave cards in Fields’ locker encouraging him to keep fighting.

“(He was) sending those cards and letters and being encouraging to me, and here he was going through the same thing,” Fields said. “I think he was proud to see me coming back trying to play.”

Fields teamed with the now-deceased Sam Mills, a former Panthers linebacker who was then the linebackers coach, to form the Keep Pounding charitable organization that encouraged cancer patients and their families to overcome obstacles.

Often during the early-2000s, Fields and Mills would participate in Keep Pounding functions at the stadium alongside Mark Richardson. Fields said Jon didn’t participate in the functions – his cancer still not publicized – but he was always in attendance.

“We were walking to one of the functions, and myself, Sam and Mark were all dressed in suits, and Jon was walking along with us in jeans and loafers,” Fields said. “I turned to him and said ‘Jon, where are you going?’ And he said, ‘I’m going right with you, Mark.’

“That was Jon. That was him.”

Richardson oversaw several stadium improvement projects, including a $5.5 million renovation of the club level in 2003, the replacement of the playing field in 2004 and the installation of LED boards in 2007. One of his final projects was the addition of a new scoreboard and sound system in 2008.

Richardson was a three-year letterman and two-year starter at wide receiver at North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels in receptions in 1981.

He had a tryout in 1982 with the Baltimore Colts, his father’s former team.

Richardson, who had undergraduate and MBA degrees from UNC, started A-OK Home Services in Chapel Hill before selling the business after five years and joining the Panthers in 1994.

Bill Rosinski, the Panthers’ radio play-by-play announcer from 1995-2004, said Richardson had a good sense of humor. During a taping for a pregame show, Rosinski asked Richardson about the team’s policy prohibiting fans from taking their shirts off during games.

“Jon looked at me and said, ‘We’re trying to promote a family atmosphere.’ And he said, ‘Bill, would you want me sitting next to you without a shirt on at the game or would I want you sitting next to me without a shirt on? The answer is no,’” Rosinski said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

McCormack said Richardson took his work seriously.

“Almost the whole interior of the stadium, he was in charge of,” McCormack said. “Jon just handled it, as he did everything, with ease. There was no fuss, bother. It was just the way he did things.”

After big chunks of the natural-grass playing surface were dislodged during the home opener against Green Bay in 2001, Richardson apologized to fans the next day during a segment he taped with Rosinski for the team’s radio show. He called the Packers’ game the worst three hours of his life, and said the field would be re-sodded immediately.

Rosinski appreciated Richardson was not a suit-and-tie guy.

“You’d see him with the jeans and boots and sweatshirts because he was a hands-on guy with the (stadium),” Rosinski said. “He really cared about what the fans thought and the fans’ experience.”

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Researcher Maria David contributed

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