The Wit and Wisdom of Wally Richardson

This World War II veteran shares how he works to positively influence the lives of middle-school students with sage advice and wise adages.

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Hi Guideposts. I’m Wally. I’m in El Dorado Hills, California, at the Marina View School. I’ve been giving advice to kids for over 20 years now. It started out when I lived nearby and walking to school with my two dogs.

When I was in middle school myself, my coaches said, “What you do makes you what you are” over and over again. That’s why I started thinking of saving sayings—you know, philosophical things that make me be a better person myself. So then I started adding onto it.

And in high school, I started. In study hall, I started collecting them, reading through books and magazines and stuff. And finally I got to where I have over 300 of them now. But I find if you have a good philosophy in life, through these sayings to keep in your mind, it will help you as you go through life.

I started talking to these kids. And they started listening to me. So I thought, “Hey, I’m going to lay them on them.” So I started telling them, I’d have a question that they had to give the other part of the answer to, like “Judging others does not define who they are…”, they answer back and say, “It defines who you are.”

And they go home and they tell their parents that. And their parents are like that. Once they said, “You know, I’ve had four kids go through this school, And all four of them, they’ve changed the attitude in our whole house. We think different than we used to because these kids come home and they keep telling us how to be happy and how to be kind and what not. And it’s permeated our whole family.” So that makes me feel good.

The mural behind me came to be because there were three young ladies I’d met from the time they were in the sixth grade all the way through the eighth grade, and they wanted to do something so people would remember me and what I used to stand for. So they spent a whole semester—these three young ladies—painting this mural.

And they said, “Well, what are the favorite ones you want to put on the mural?” So I said, “Well, I’ll give you five of them.” And the five you see here are the ones that they painted on there. But I said, “Most importantly, what you do makes you what you are.”

There are three kinds of people in the world: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those who don’t know what happened. So I ask [the kids], “What kind are you? And they have to say, “I’m the kind to make things happen.”

In 1941, war was approaching. And at 18 years old, you had to be drafted in the service. I want to be a Navy carrier pilot, so I volunteered for the Navy and I became a Naval aviator and a dive bomber pilot and a fighter pilot.

I applied for United Airlines and I flew for them for over 30 years as a airline pilot, which is my love. And then, after that, I moved up here with my wife and kids.

And you see now, the kids all know me. And they know my wife, because we do an annual get-together with them. And so eventually, that evolved into having our annual friendship days.

We’d give them a bookmark. And they had to talk to some other person and give them a bookmark, and trade them around. But at graduation, we’d always make sure the graduating class gets a special bookmark and maybe a special pen.

Well, God inspired me. And I’ve always gone—we’d always gone to church as kids, you know? And I read the Bible—Matthew, Mark—I know the New Testament quite well. And from that, I have a lot of Jesus teachings I use, like, “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you,” one of Jesus’ most important sayings. And I said, “If you can do that and be kind to other people like that, you won’t have any trouble going through school.”

My best quality, the most important one, is “Never look down on anyone unless you’re helping them up.” “If they’ll gossip to you, they’ll gossip about you.” “To the world, you may be one person. But to one person, you may be the world.”

The one I like best is, “Live in a way that those who know you but don’t know God will learn to know God, because they knew you.”

When I’m gone, I’ll always have memories of me called Wally’s Wall. So about four months ago, they put a bench down the street that says “Wally’s Bench.” Got a little plaque on it. And down below, it says, “Never look down on anyone unless you’re helping him up.” Pretty neat, huh?

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