Richard T. Liddicoat’s Giving, Humble Spirit

Liddicoat was known for his giving spirit and is remembered for his unselfish desire to educate, inspire and help others. Photo by GIA
Editor’s note:  Richard T. Liddicoat, GIA’s second president, passed away in 2002. This article, based in large part on the reminisces of Mr. Liddicoat’s longtime friends, colleagues and family, was originally published in a fall 2002 special supplement to The Loupe, at the time GIA’s quarterly industry magazine. We celebrate his life and spirit on his March 2 birthday each year.

It never took long for Richard T. Liddicoat’s colleagues at GIA to hear he had arrived at the Institute’s Carlsbad campus. Slowly, but surely, news of his occasional visits trickled down through the offices and cubicles and even to those passing in the hallways.

If you were lucky, your path crossed with his and you were guaranteed a warm and sincere greeting from the man so many admired – professionally and personally – and rightfully so.

Liddicoat wasn’t tall in stature, but he was undisputedly a giant in the gem and jewelry industry. His greatest contributions included creating the internationally recognized diamond grading system and penning ground-breaking books such as the Handbook of Gem Identification in 1947 and the Jewelers’ Manual in 1964. He also willingly and unselfishly shared his vast knowledge of gemology one-on-one and through GIA’s education courses and seminars.

Known around the world as the Father of Modern Gemology, Liddicoat is credited with “making many a jeweler into a gemologist through his training,” says Herb Lewis, a close friend for more than 40 years.
It’s who Liddicoat was as a human being, however, that won the hearts of countless individuals he came across in his lifetime. The people who knew him best outside of the office say he was humble, gentle, friendly, fun, a leader, a sports nut, a people person and a true gentleman.

A Good Friend

One of his favorite pastimes was playing golf with his close friends on Saturday mornings. Lewis, past president of the Jewelers 24 Karat Club, shared many rounds of golf with Liddicoat throughout their long friendship. He said he was a good golfer, but that it was a good thing Liddicoat had gemology to fall back on.

“I can assure you that if Dick and I had to make a living playing golf we would have starved,” Lewis says. “He wasn’t a championship golfer, but he played for the fun of it and the companionship.”

Liddicoat typically mixed business with pleasure when he met with the Over the Hill Gang, a select group of friends he had lunch with every month.    

Former GIA President Glenn Nord organized the group of Liddicoat’s buddies that included Al Woodill, Robert Westover, Gene Laroff and later George Findley Jr., and others. Laroff, who knew Liddicoat for 35 years, says he could always count on him to tell funny stories over a glass of Chardonnay or two when the Gang got together.

But he never talked about himself, Laroff says.

“In those meetings, it was very difficult to get him to talk about what he was doing. He always asked about other people and wanted to know what was going on in the industry,” he says. “He never even talked about his golf score, whether it was good or bad.”

Laroff, past president of the Jewelers 24 Karat Club of Southern California, recalled a story that epitomized Liddicoat’s selflessness and desire to be around his good friends during a speech at Liddicoat’s memorial service at GIA’s Carlsbad campus in August.

“One luncheon Dick showed up looking like he had been in major automobile accident,” he says. “His whole face was all swollen and he had bandages over his nose and his eyes were black and blue.

“Finally, after that first glass of Chardonnay, I said, ‘Dick, what happened?’ And he said, ‘Oh I had a minor surgery.’ See, if he had an ego he wouldn’t have left his home, right? No one would have left their house looking like he did. But he did because he didn’t want to miss being with his pals.”

A Talented Dancer

As much as Liddicoat admired his buddies, he also had his fair share of female admirers. He loved music from the big band era, was a talented dancer, and could often be found on the dance floor at industry parties.

“You could always count on him being the last person on the dance floor,” says Kathryn Kimmel, vice president of Marketing at GIA.

Longtime friend and dancing partner Barbara Westwood remembers how special Liddicoat made her and others feel.

“In terms of ‘girlfriends’ I’d say, ‘just get in line’ because women loved Dick Liddicoat,” she says. “He was childlike … innocent. I never felt intimidated around him. He always made you feel comfortable.

He made others feel more important than him, strangely enough,” Westwood says. “Whenever I’d see him I’d just run up to him and give him a big hug. He was just a wonderful man.”


An Explorer at Heart

Out of all his female friends, Ethel Mae “Emae” Bradbury held a truly special place in Liddicoat’s heart. She was his close friend and companion for the last five years of his life – accompanying him to events and spending time together to talk about virtually everything, Bradbury says.

The two had known each other since the late 1950s when Liddicoat befriended Emae’s husband after meeting him on the golf course. They maintained a friendship after their mutual spouses passed away, but the relationship became more involved in recent years as they began to see more of one another.

“It was a gradual thing. There really wasn’t a ‘moment’ (when the relationship changed),’ Bradbury says. “We just kept seeing each other more and more. It was one of those things that sort of grew. It was delightful because he was such good company.”

She says Liddicoat was an explorer at heart, which he displayed when they would go to Santa Barbara to relax. Even on vacation, he didn’t like to stay in one place.

“It wasn’t a question of sitting on the beach,” Bradbury says. “He always wanted to get out and see things, like drive through the country or go to a museum. Exploring was his first love. If you could put him out on a pile of dirt someplace where he could pick around and find things, he was happy. He loved to go out and rock hound.”

At home, however, you could count on him being glued to the television watching football or basketball, Bradbury says.

“He was a sports nut,” she says. “Of course, with his mind, he knew everyone that had been traded and who was doing what. He loved college football, too, and he always rooted for (his alma mater) University of Michigan.”

A Sharp Wit

Liddicoat was also known for his wry sense of humor. Family member Hilary White, who spoke at his memorial service, remembers when he’d come over for dinners at her mother’s house.

“He will forever be noted for his dry sense of humor, so dry that the jokes and puns puzzled more than amused,” she says.

Nord says his normally good-good natured friend with a “pure spirit” sometimes revealed a side of himself most people didn’t know about, although it was always in good fun.

“He had a little streak of mischief that ran down his spine… just a little bit,” Nord explains. “He always liked a good joke.”

Liddicoat couldn’t help but put his boyish mischief to use when he landed a short-term job right out of college, Laroff said. He was hired to drive a truck carrying explosives from Louisiana to Texas. The vehicle was labeled with signs that read “explosives,” including one spelled backwards over the grill so people ahead of him could read it in their rear view mirror.
Liddicoat drove up closely behind cars in front of him to see what reaction he would get.
“He’d get a big kick out of that,” Laroff says. “He’d just pull up behind a car and he said they’d either pull over or just gun it. To him, that was fun. He had a great sense of humor.”

A Giving Spirit

Liddicoat will perhaps best be remembered by those close to him for his unselfish desire to educate, inspire and help others. He shared his knowledge of gemology freely whenever asked.

It wasn’t rare for Liddicoat to arrive late to meetings because he was detained helping a student with a question, Lewis says. He was a mentor for a countless number of people in the industry, including GIA President William E. Boyajian, G.G., who credits him for helping to shape his values and career through advice and inspiration.

“I don’t think anyone can truly walk in Mr. Liddicoat’s footsteps,” Boyajian says. “He was, in my mind, a giant in the industry and a true hero of gemology. I believe that if inspiration is any measure of a person’s influence as a leader, then Mr. Liddicoat was a leader of great repute.”

Nord highlighted a particular example of Liddicoat’s giving spirit during the memorial service.

“After about three years at the Institute, Dick was very concerned that (my wife) Hanna and I didn’t have our own home – we were living in an apartment with our two children,” he says. “He was determined that we should have a home, but we were not financially in a position to buy a home (at the time). But Dick, again, was determined. He said, ‘Glenn, go out and find a home. Find something you like.’

“We finally found one we really liked, but it was really out of our league. I went back to the Institute and told him … he said, ‘You get the home.’ And he reached for the telephone and called the local banker and he said, ‘Glenn Nord is going to be over there in a few moments and he’s going to want some money. You give him whatever he wants and I’ll come over and co-sign for it’

“That was Dick Liddicoat,” Nord says. “He was an incredible guy and the things he did for people were just impossible to imagine.”

It may be impossible to ever replicate the accomplishments and example set forth by Liddicoat.

A man with a “great mind, an incredible work ethic and one who never had a big ego,” as Laroff describes him, Liddicoat was a guiding light to many and a precious friend to many more.

His death on July 23 marked the end of an incredibly influential career of a true legend who was loved and admired by all members of the gem and jewelry industry. His contributions and the family and friends he touched throughout his life, however, will not be forgotten, says Michael Clary, GIA Gem Trade Laboratory supervisor.

“It is said that when all great men die, their greatness dies with them. But I believe his greatness will continue. It will continue in all of us he influenced.”

Emphasis on Education