A man died last Saturday. A newsmaker, a family man, a Catholic. That description could well fit Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But this is about someone else. This is about a man named John Riccardo. If you followed the American auto industry in the 1970s, you would remember him as the last man to head Chrysler Corporation before Lee Iacocca took over. If you did not follow the industry, you may never have heard of him. But there are some things about him that are worth knowing.
As one fascinated by old cars and the people who were involved in making them, and particularly as someone who was a fan of Chrysler and its cars of the era when Riccardo was with the company, I felt compelled to write a retrospective of his contributions to Chrysler at Curbside Classic, (which can be read here).
My main takeaway from his Chrysler career was that when the chips were down and it would be necessary for someone to walk the plank in order for the company to obtain the government aid that it would need to keep the folks in the factories and the offices working, he agreed to be that man. Having shouldered the role of the human sacrifice, He left things to a fresh team who was better equipped for a corporate rescue.
But after writing that piece, something struck me. Here I am, a guy who had never met John Ricardo. I never had a cup of coffee or even a conversation in an elevator with him. I knew of him, having read quite a lot about Chrysler in the years before, during and after his time there. In fact, I had an insatiable appetite for news about Chrysler during the 1970s when so many of its troubles were unfolding. But actually know him? Not at all. Yet, here I was offering some opinions on what kind of job he did there which, by extension, were reflections on him as a man.
Frankly, this started to make me a little uncomfortable. After all, what might some stranger who knew something about my professional life say about my legacy? Shouldn’t that person at least know me in order for there to be some value in his opinion? This led me to do a little more research.
There is one other parallel between John Ricardo and Justice Scalia: Riccardo was a devout Catholic who had a son who entered the priesthood. In fact, if you Google “John Riccardo”, you are far more likely to turn up information on Fr. John Riccardo, priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit than you are about his father. Fr. Riccardo turns out to be very active in media and has quite a following of enthusiastic fans.
Almost immediately, I came across some podcasts, the first three of which turned out to be tributes to his Dad. One of them was a 2008 Father’s Day tribute to a man who was very special to him – his hero, in fact.
Nobody knows a father like his adult child. Whatever we may be to the outside world, our children see us at our best and at our worst. John Riccardo was surely no different. I heard his son describe a man who placed his faith and his family consistently at the top of his priorities, a man who did his best to teach his kids how a faithful Catholic man was supposed to live his life. The father being described could be tough, but he also did his very best to live the faith that he spoke of to the young ears around him.
I will never meet John Riccardo, but after hearing his son talk about him for a little while, I feel that I sort of do know him now. And while the historical record of his time at Chrysler is mixed, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that his motivation to step down for the good of the company sprung from his concern for the many people who would have been without a job had he let his ego or his pride get in the way.
Sadly, there are too many hypocrites among those who profess to be faithful Christians. Many of us say the words but don’t always live the faith that we preach when it really matters. John Riccardo is one of those guys who did the right thing even when it was hard and embarrassing and costly. And not just once, but as a way of life. We fathers are always in need of a good example, someone we can look to when things get tough in our own lives.
As a Catholic, I believe that there is supposed to be something that makes others notice that I am somehow different. If I’m doing it right, anyway. And as a Catholic father, it is rewarding to see the example of one who lived his faith down to his bones and was ultimately the kind of man that every Catholic father should be. In John Riccardo, I now have one more example of such a man than I had a week ago. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, in the mercy of God, rest in peace.