James Richardson, in a family photo

James Richardson had a loving wife and two young girls who adored him. He had a dream job at Bath Iron Works as director of development. In February, he fulfilled a years-long dream of buying a boat. He planned to retire early and sail around the world with his family.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic began. He lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the stock market. He worked from home since early May and hated the isolation. He became depressed and panic set in.

Richardson took his own life on June 24. He was 54.

“It’s been hell,” said his wife, Sara Richardson of South Portland. “He’s the last person I ever would have expected to do something like this. He was just the glue that held us all together. To lose that … it’s going to be incredibly hard.”

The mounting stresses that took a toll on Richardson are a broader concern for mental health care providers, who worry that suicide rates will increase because of the isolation, uncertainty and economic pressures related to the pandemic.

Greg A. Marley, director of suicide prevention at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, said in a statement Thursday that suicide remains one of the most stigmatized issues in our culture, and people often hide their struggles.

“The (stigma) makes it very difficult for many people to acknowledge their own depth of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide,” Marley said. “It makes it very hard to reach out and to ask for help in times of darkness.”

James Richardson, with wife, Sara, and their two daughters, Hazel and Violet. Courtesy of the Richardson family.

Richardson was remembered by his family as a joyful, kind and hard-working guy who devoted his life to family and friends.

He grew up on a farm in Cumberland and participated 4-H, raising a show cow named Eleanor that he took to fairs across the state. After going to a boarding school in Massachusetts, he attended Colby College and graduated with a history degree. He spent the next year exploring his passion for sailing as an instructor in the Caribbean.

Richardson worked at Bath Iron Works for 32 years, most recently as director of planning. He was previously manager of engineering/planning. Colleagues at the shipyard remembered him this week as smart, funny, strong-willed and a leader.

Jilian Noriega, a cost analyst at BIW, said Thursday that he took her under his wing.

“He was such a go-getter from day one with me,” Noriega said. “He made all these databases that people have been running for like 20-plus years and they’re still running and all in his name. … He knew it all. You could see him building a database in his head before he would even do it. It was unfathomable. He was brilliant.”

James and Sara Richardson Courtesy of the Richardson family

Richardson and his wife were together for 15 years and married for 12. They lived near the beach in South Portland and raised two young daughters, Hazel, who turned 11 Thursday, and Violet, who will turn 9 on Tuesday. He also raised a son, Oliver Richardson, and two stepsons, Christopher and Alex Graff, from a previous marriage.

Sara Richardson said he was the kind of father who rushed home after work to go to his kids’ swim practice. He was a coach, a Cub Scout leader, and constant cheerleader for the kids, his wife said.

“We had a fabulous life together,” she said. “When we went on our first date … it was just like meeting the other half of me. It was the easiest relationship I could have imagined. It was always that way. We did everything together. If he was at work, I missed him. When he was home, we spent all our time together. We were very close. I always felt like we were the four musketeers. Now we are three. It’s going to be awful to go on without him.”

Richardson and his wife bought a 48-foot sailboat in February. His dream was to travel the world with his wife and daughters.

But the COVID-19 crisis began soon after and everything changed.

In the months that followed, Richardson worked tirelessly preparing their house to sell. His wife said he spent long hours hauling their household things to a storage unit in Raymond, often making a couple of trips every morning. Then, he would start his day working for the shipyard.

“His days were getting extremely stressful,” she said. “He didn’t relax a lot. He kept doing and doing, and did for everyone else as well. He was piling more on his shoulders.”

Richardson’s wife talked openly about his state of mind in the weeks before his death. She said he was stressed about losing money in the stock market. She said they also were in the process of selling the house and learning how to operate the boat. His wife said she would have done anything to save him.

“I would have sold our lives and lived in a tent,” she said. “I would have done anything. I knew the day I met him that we were going to get married. For me, that was the moment we really became one person. I feel like half of me will be missing from now on.”

Richardson was stressed by all the changes caused by COVID-19. He was concerned that he would bring the virus home. He was stressed about an ongoing strike at BIW.

He began working from home early in May. His wife said he didn’t like the isolation of being home. Noriega said Richardson expressed missing his colleagues at BIW.

Noriega said managers at the shipyard are currently doing the jobs of union workers during the strike. A week before his death, Richardson skipped a mandatory safety meeting. He was scheduled to begin painting at the shipyard the morning he took his life, she said.

“I think that was a breaking point for him,” Noriega said. “He wasn’t happy about it. He was a planner. He had all these steps and stepping-stones that he was trying to make. He tried to handle it as best he could. The way he dealt with all of it was planning and having a path forward. … I just lost my mentor. I’m devastated.”

In early June, Richardson suffered a panic attack. His wife said he had no previous history of panic attacks, depression or anxiety. She repeatedly encouraged him to seek help, but he refused.

“He was so frightened,” she said. “The look in his eyes was so sad. I just wanted to help him, but he refused any kind of help, saying, ‘I can pull through this alone.’ He became a little quieter, a little more serious.”

The family recently moved aboard their boat at Sunset Marina in South Portland. The night before he died, he wanted sushi.

“We had a great night on our boat,” his wife said. “He would occasionally look at me over the past couple of weeks with tears in his eyes. He was a very sentimental person anyhow. He would say, ‘I just need a big hug.’ I’d give him a big hug and tell him, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ The night before, I was really wanting and offering to get him the kind of help he needed. But, he just refused.”

The morning Richardson took his life, he wrote an email to his wife explaining his decision. When she saw the email, she drove to their house and called South Portland police. She said her husband went to Dunkin’ that morning. His coffee was still warm. He cleaned out the refrigerator. He sent a text message to a friend asking for help moving some heavy pieces of furniture that afternoon.

Richardson’s body was found around 9:55 a.m. June 24 in a deserted parking lot in Portland.

“It’s just unbelievable,” his wife said. “I had his phone and computer unlocked. There are no clues. He was a very strait-laced guy. He shared everything with me. He shared about his panic attack and anxiety, but refused to get any help for it. It’s heartbreaking. I tried. I said, ‘Let’s go see your doctor.’ He always said he could get through it on his own.”

Marley, of NAMI Maine, said the incidence of anxiety and depression has been especially high since the pandemic began. He expressed concern that suicide rates will increase in the wake of the losses and the trauma associated with the pandemic.

“Most of the time people show warning signs before attempting to end their life; they represent changes in behavior that people can see,” Marley said. “Sometimes we recognize the warning signs only in hindsight. And sometimes people hide their thoughts and mask their feelings. This can be especially true among men, who do not easily show emotions.

Richardson’s wife urged people who are feeling depressed or anxious to get help.

“Know that this is not the only way out,” she said. “You may end up relieving your own pain, but the pain caused by this is enormous and will last the rest of my life. There are programs out there for people who are struggling. James was too proud to seek out things like that. I would beg people to not put their pride before their lives and for what it will do their families. Two weeks into this and I keep expecting him to come home from work. I don’t know how long that will last. I feel like it could be a lifetime.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to Hazel and Violet’s college fund http://gf.me/u/ycvhdt.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is struggling, call or text the Maine Crisis Line, 1-888-568-1112 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.