Share / Discuss

Communal Compassion

Giving back has been a guiding theme for this Matchbox couple

Jackie Brokaw Richardson ’80 wasn’t so sure about Swarthmore her first semester. 

“It was a bumpy ride,” she admits. As an African American student, campus life was often isolating. And as for the football games … “Everyone was sitting in the bleachers with books! This was a sporting event. And they brought books?”

But Jackie stayed and thrived at Swarthmore. The Black Cultural Center and Swarthmore African-American Student Society offered support and a touch of home. And there was always Larry. 

Jackie met Lawrence Richardson ’78 during her first week at Swarthmore. They’ve been married nearly 39 years. Jackie also met Eugene Lang ’38, H’81 during her student years when she regularly attended Board of Managers meetings. Lang stayed in touch. 

“He’d call me every five or six months after I graduated to see how I was doing, how my career was going,” she says. “Then he’d always ask, ‘But are you giving back?’”  

Are you giving back? 

Those words have guided the Richardson family, whether through the raising of their two daughters, volunteering at a battered women’s shelter, or donating to programs like the Swarthmore Black Alumni Network’s summer opportunities, provided through the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. 

“There’s a communal compassion that shines through Swarthmore,” says Jackie. 

In 2007, the Richardsons set up a student scholarship to honor Jackie’s father, John W. Brokaw. The pair both volunteer as alumni interviewers, donate consistently, and set up a gift annuity. Larry joined the Board of Managers; Jackie serves as vice chair of the Council of Presidential Initiatives, where she’s been involved in everything from Parrish Hall renovations to increased diversity on campus. 

“The big thing is Val,” Jackie says about President Smith. “She’s a tremendous leader.” 

Larry appreciates seeing Swarthmore grow and expand course offerings. He supports the athletic program and the gospel choir, and considers annual student-donor luncheons a real treat. 

“We get to meet the ones we support,” he says. 

Support can be all-important to Swarthmore students, as Jackie and Larry both know. On a day when Jackie was doubting whether she belonged at Swarthmore, she hid in her dorm room. 

“Mrs. Van Dyke, the housekeeper, came in and said: ‘You’re as good as anyone else. Now get up and go to class!’” Jackie recalls.

From professors to Sharples staff, Jackie felt that support: “They took us to church with them, or home for dinner.”

Larry went on to receive an MBA from Wharton and pursue a career in finance and marketing. His jobs included economic development director for the city of St. Louis, and public finance roles at A.G. Edwards & Sons, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, and now Robert W. Baird & Co. For several years he was the trailing spouse to Jackie’s career. “All I needed was access to an airport,” he says.

Jackie found her fit in human resources. She received a master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education, then worked for a range of companies on global HR challenges, including mergers and acquisitions. The couple call Chicago home. 

“Swarthmore’s part of our history and part of our legacy,” says Jackie. “There’s some magnetism there. We keep being pulled back in. This year is particularly meaningful to me since we’re celebrating 50 years of the BCC. It’s also my 40th Reunion year.”