Richard Dujardin wrote about faith in Rhode Island, and embraced it himself

Those of us at the Providence Journal who knew Dick Dujardin, our longtime religion writer, remember him as a low-key guy, always with a bit of a smile, smoking a pipe when that was still allowed, a man without ego in a business where that's rare.

But my goodness the things he saw and brought to Rhode Island readers during his 47 years as a reporter here.

Richard was at St. Peter’s Square in 1978 as John Paul II became Pope, and back again in both 2005 and 2013 to cover the naming of Benedict XVI and then Pope Francis.

But he’d tell you it was just as meaningful to him to cover local religious news, including Rhode Island’s Muslim community after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and the poignant closing of the state’s Episcopal cathedral in 2012 because of declining membership.

Providence Journal reporter Richard Dujardin presenting greeting cards from two of his children, Joelle and Jean-Paul, to Pope John Paul II at the end of a long day with the pontiff and his entourage in San Antonio, Texas in 1987.
Providence Journal reporter Richard Dujardin presenting greeting cards from two of his children, Joelle and Jean-Paul, to Pope John Paul II at the end of a long day with the pontiff and his entourage in San Antonio, Texas in 1987.

News report: A Rhode Island man, 77, died in a fall as Kilbourn Avenue Bridge was rising in downtown Milwaukee

Tragically, Richard Dujardin died yesterday in a devastating accident while in Milwaukee for a conference. He was on his way to a noon Mass, crossing a drawbridge, when it suddenly began opening, lifting him and causing him to fall to the sidewalk below.

Dujardin was 77 and left behind his wife of 54 years, Rose-Marie, and six children, one of whom, Peter, followed him into journalism and works now at the Daily Press and Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia. Peter posted about his dad on Facebook, saying that despite his age, “my awesome dad” held on to the rising bridge “valiantly” for several minutes before losing his grip.

Richard was a devout Catholic, but as our decades-long reporter on the “God beat,” he was journalistically ecumenical as he wrote about prominent folks of all religions, ranging from Billy Graham to the Dalai Lama.

Rabbi Les Gutterman, now retired from Providence’s Temple Beth El and a longtime local faith leader, remembers how well Richard captured different creeds in his stories.

“He interviewed people of many faiths and no faiths with respect,” said Gutterman. Richard had the ability to listen deeply, Gutterman added, and always generously captured his subjects.

Richard C. Dujardin at the Vatican in 2013.
Richard C. Dujardin at the Vatican in 2013.

From Queens to Providence

Born in 1944, Richard Dujardin grew up in Queens, went to an all-male Catholic high school and then majored in journalism at Fordham University in the Bronx. Two weeks after graduating, he was a reporter at The Providence Journal.

Carol Young arrived around the same time and remembers being a cub reporter with Richard in the paper’s Warren bureau – one of a half dozen local news offices around the state.

“We were two kids in our early 20’s, trying to make a name for ourselves,” said Carol.

Obituary: Rhode Island man killed in fall from Milwaukee bridge remembered as avid travel, father

And they did – Carol rose to be deputy executive editor and Dujardin the dean of Rhode Island religion writers during a time, and in a state, when that was a major beat.

“I remember he was thorough and thoughtful,” said Carol, “kind of an egghead – very smart, and his stories showed it.”

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She recalls being amused when Richard became a dad and then a dad again and yet again and again until there were six.

“I used to joke with him, like, ‘My gosh, how many of these are you going to have?’” Carol said.

For three years, Dujardin stepped away from The Journal when he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving in the Mediterranean and Guantanamo Bay as a navigational officer. In a reflection of his two passions, his other Navy duties included public affairs and religious lay leader.

He was named The Journal's religion writer in 1977, later saying he worried whether there would be enough stories to cover. Thirty years and thousands of religion articles later, he’d gotten his answer.

In 2015, his long run was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Religion Newswriters Association, given in other years to reporters from papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

But Richard’s journalistic career showed he was also a pro in another category. As changing times forced newspapers to consolidate, The Journal eliminated many beats, including religion.

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A departure late in career: Breaking news

In 2008, Alan Rosenberg, who would later become executive editor, was assigned to choose and lead a team of breaking-news reporters. Several colleagues suggested he recruit Richard, who by then was so identified with the “God beat” that some jokingly called him Father Dujardin.

But he was also known for fast, thorough turnarounds of breaking religious news, and before that, the kind of guy who once climbed over fences to get to a car-crash scene.

So he joined Rosenberg’s team and became a general assignment reporter covering cops, fires and more, often working and embracing the 4-to-midnight shift.

“He did a great job,” said Rosenberg. “He had that reporter’s hunger to find out everything that was going on, and telling it.”

Often, said Rosenberg, Dujardin would come in early to do religion stories as well.

Dujardin stood out for never seeming stressed in the newsroom, even on deadline. One of his former colleagues, Gerald Carbone, posted about that on Facebook.

“His calmness,” wrote Carbone, “emanated from a deep place of faith.”

Richard Dujardin: Remembered as an avid traveler, devoted father to 6 children

After almost five decades, Richard retired in 2013, but loved attending monthly lunches among Journal retirees, and reading the paper’s “E-Edition” print replica on his iPad.

His son Peter posted that his dad was a “news junkie” right to the end and still mentally keen at 77, traveling often by plane to see his 12 grandkids.

Peter ended his Facebook post quoting a phrase his dad would often say to his six kids, reflecting how faith remained at the center of his life:

“Stay close to God.”

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Richard Dujardin RI religion writer dies in fall Milwaukee drawbridge