PROVIDENCE — Richard Dujardin, the longtime religion beat reporter for the Providence Journal was tragically killed on Monday, August 15, while walking with Rose-Marie, his beloved wife of 54 years, on their way to a Mass at a historic local church in Milwaukee.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Richard and Rose-Marie Dujardin were walking across the Kilbourn Avenue Bridge on their way to the noon Mass at Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption.
As the drawbridge was raised by a remote operator on another bridge tower to allow a boat to pass through, Richard, 77, was caught at the center, unable to reach his wife, who had reached the other side. She had been walking ahead of him during a fitness routine in which she repeatedly strode ahead and then back to him to increase the length of her walk.
As the bridge reached a 90-degree angle, perpendicular to the ground, Richard reportedly clung to the side rail valiantly, holding on for one to two minutes before losing his grip and falling 71 feet to the concrete roadway below. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Dujardin, the father of six adult children, is being remembered for his devout Catholic faith, his curiosity about the world that fueled his desire to travel and his passion for relaying memorable stories about his experiences to his loved ones.
“He’d wake up each day with a new, fresh look on life,” his son, Jean-Paul Dujardin, told the Journal Sentinel. “Optimistic and gentle and just a wonderful father.”
According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, Dujardin, who used a hearing aid, was walking slowly and following a map to the church on his iPad when the incident happened.
“The lights, bells, and arms came down at each end of the bridge, however Richard was hard of hearing and it is thought that he didn’t notice them,” the medical examiner’s report indicated.
One of his sons, Jeffrey Dujardin, told the Journal Sentinel that he wonders if even he could have maintained his grasp of the side rail for as long as his father did.
“It’s very impressive that a man of his age was able to muster the strength to hold on for that long,” he said.
Dujardin was born in 1944 in New York City, the oldest of five boys.
Within weeks of graduating from New York City’s Jesuit-led Fordham University, he came to work at The Providence Journal, where he would spend his entire 47-year writing career, with 30 of those years reporting on the religion beat until his retirement in 2013.
In his work, Dujardin had the incredible opportunity to witness firsthand from St. Peter’s Square the presentation of John Paul II as Pope following his election in the conclave, as well as the introduction of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and then Pope Francis in 2013 from the same vantage point.
In a column, longtime Journal writer Mark Patinkin noted that while Richard was a devout Catholic, he was “journalistically ecumenical as he wrote about prominent folks of all religions, ranging from Billy Graham to the Dalai Lama.”
Dujardin also served his country during these years, leaving The Journal for three years to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he served in the Mediterranean and at Guantanamo Bay.
Patinkin said that Dujardin’s Journal colleagues 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.”
A Mass of Christian Burial was held at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 26, at St. Raymond’s Church, 1240 North Main St., Providence. Burial will follow at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.