At home with Luke and Stephanie Richardson

Photos by Julie Oliver

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Exterior of the renovated lofts in downtown Binghamton. The left side of the building is fully renovated while the right half remains somewhat derelict.

When you move around a lot, home is what you make it.

Luke Richardson is well known in the hockey world. After playing in the NHL for 20 years with teams from Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Edmonton, he went on to become assistant coach for the Senators and now head coach for the Sens’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, New York. However, since the tragic suicide of his youngest daughter, Daron, 14, two years ago, he’s also become known as a champion of youth mental health and, along with his wife Stephanie, continues to raise awareness for that issue with the highly successful Do It For Daron campaign.

I recently caught up with the couple, both 43, just as they were moving into their new funky loft in downtown Binghamton. Their living room suite and some other furniture had yet to arrive, but they welcomed me with open arms. While still keeping their family home in Ottawa, their new place is conveniently located only an hour away from their eldest daughter, Morgan, who is studying at nearby Cornell University. It’s a fresh start of sorts for the couple, who met as teenagers and have been together for decades.

The pair on their new rooftop patio, which overlooks downtown Binghamton.

Julie: What does “home” mean to you?

Luke: Home is a place where you can go home and relax and be yourself — maybe re-group; in my world, (to think of) what happened through the day and reflect on it and kind of re-energize and get yourself ready for tomorrow. But it is a place to come home and relax and be with family.

Julie: Stephanie, Luke’s career has involved a lot of travel from city to city. What do you do to make a house a home?

Stephanie: A big thing for me is all our family photos. I travel with them and bring them and that helps — as much personal stuff as we can. So, when you rent and you don’t have that option to paint or decorate or find the perfect place to live, it’s to quickly make it feel like you have lived there for a long period of time, whether it be photos, your favourite blanket, a comfortable rocking chair.

Julie: In any city you’ve lived, what is a favourite home memory for either of you?

Stephanie: I think the kids running around the house, the dogs; that’s the best part — the noise. It’s quiet here with just Luke and I, so definitely the noise, chaos and just everyday, busy life.

Julie: Luke, you’re beloved in the City of Ottawa, not just for your association with the Ottawa Senators but for the Do It For Daron campaign. How do you feel about the huge effect that campaign has had on the community?

Luke: Ottawa has always been home for us. All the amount of years that we travelled, there’s something about it being our home that brought us back. We’d go back every summer and train there, live there. And we always talked about, even the nice places that we went, great people we met, we always thought Ottawa was home. Obviously, at our family’s worst time — in our tragedy — the city was there for us. As much as people thank us for doing things in the area of youth mental health, really it was the city embracing us, keeping us strong and keeping us going.

Julie: Stephanie, the public would envision hockey players’ and their wives’ lives as being very glamorous, but having to keep a house together can’t have been easy when you were always moving from city to city.

Stephanie: We were lucky that we always ended up on teams with great groups of people. We were all in the same boat. We all raised our kids together, went to the games and found soccer teams and hockey teams for the kids to play on. You become very resourceful at tapping into other gals and finding out what they did and what works … There’s great, strong, loving ladies that are willing to provide guidance, so I was lucky with that. In six years in Edmonton, we moved four times. In Toronto, we moved four times in four years. In Philly (Philadelphia), we moved twice. Part of that was our own fault, but either Luke was on a one-year contract or our housing didn’t work out the way we wanted, so you get good at packing … I have lots of tips (laughs).

The pair are still decorating their new three-bedroom loft. "We're still waiting for the couches," says Luke.

Julie: Luke, except children, who is the great love of your life and where did you meet?

Luke: Stephanie is definitely the love of my life. We were both in high school, although we didn’t go to high school together. We had some mutual friends and we met up at a time when I was living away from home. We just started to keep in touch and then spent a lot of time in the summers together.

Julie: Do you remember the first time you saw her?

Luke: Yes. I was home for just a weekend because I was living away in Peterborough and went to a house gathering with friends. We had lots in common, both having relatives growing up in Shawville (Quebec). And Shawville’s not a big place, so we had lots to talk about.

Julie: What is your idea of misery?

Luke: That’s an easy one for our family. No parent should ever have to lose a child. There’s lots of tragedies, whether it be cancer, etc. But in ours, for instance, it was suicide. So, we are left with a lot of questions and ‘why?’ that we’ll never understand. And that’s the hard one to accept, as much as we want to try and help, going forward in that area, we’ll still always have that question that’s hard to kind of live with.

Julie: Conversely then, what is your idea of happiness?

Luke: Family and togetherness. Happy times when the family is together; it’s always great memories.

Julie: Finally, how would you like to be remembered?

Luke: Just as an honest, caring citizen in the community.

joliver@ottawacitizen.com

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