Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan was remembered as a generous soul who “got things done” for the city he loved at a memorial Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels April 28.
“He wasn’t afraid to say he was sorry, that he made a mistake. He lived the life of a person who understood who he was,” said Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, Riordan’s pastor at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica for the last 35 years, in his homily at the Friday afternoon Mass.
Riordan, who built a career as a lawyer, businessman, investment banker, and philanthropist in Los Angeles before serving as mayor, died April 19 at the age of 92.
A lifelong Catholic, he often credited his Jesuit education for helping shape his worldview. Before and after serving as mayor from 1993 to 2001, he established a reputation as one of the city’s biggest supporters of Catholic education. He became the founding president of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) in 1987 and later, in 2011, launched a two-year, $100 million legacy campaign for the foundation, which provides scholarships for local Catholic school students.
Archbishop José H. Gomez presided over the 2 p.m. Mass, with Cardinal Roger Mahony, a longtime friend of Riordan’s, and several other priests concelebrating. An ensemble student choir of youth from Bishop Amat, Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto and Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary high schools, as well as from Precious Blood School and the Cathedral Children’s Chorus, led the music during most of the liturgy.
Moments after Riordan’s wife, Elizabeth, and other family members entered the cathedral in solemn procession to the sound of bagpipes, LA Mayor Karen Bass recalled how “LA’s soul needed healing” when Riordan took office in 1993 in her welcome remarks.
“During the daily work of City Hall and especially during some of our city’s most trying times, Mayor Riordan acted with impatience,” said Bass, reminding the crowd of several hundred people about the Republican’s accomplishments in helping the city recover from the effects of a national recession, the 1992 Rodney King riots, and the 1994 Northridge earthquake after being elected as a political outsider.
“That is not to say that he acted without compassion,” Bass added. “Mayor Riordan acted with a healthy and heartfelt impatience because he felt that the people of Los Angeles deserved swift decisions and urgent action to confront their greatest challenges.”
The service drew a who’s who of Los Angeles movers and shakers that included U.S. Sen. and former LA City Councilman Alex Padilla, former mayors Jim Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Michel Moore, former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, Los Angeles Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff, and prominent businessman and former mayoral candidate Rick Caruso.
Those who spoke at the end of the service remembered Riordan as an out-of-the-box thinker who forged unlikely partnerships and helped bring important landmarks such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Staples Center, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to Los Angeles.
Senator Padilla, a Democrat, served on the LA City Council during the last two years of Riordan’s term as mayor. In his remarks before the end of the Mass, he called Riordan “a Republican who believed he could use the government to help people, and he was willing to work with — or fight with — whoever it took to make it happen.”
Padilla also pointed out Riordan's commitment to education, calling him a “big booster for Los Angeles,” but especially for “children, the future of our city.”
Riordan’s daughter, Mary Beth, recalled how after suffering the deaths of two of his children, he “truly believed Billy and Carol were guiding him, and smiling down on with their love and support.”
“We know that dad is smiling down on us from his new office,” said Mary Beth, speaking on behalf of her sisters before the end of the two-hour service.
Federal judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, a friend of Riordan’s who worked on his first mayoral campaign in the early 1990s, noted Riordan’s time spent studying under Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain during his time at Princeton.
“Dick would speak of Maritain’s profound influence on his strongly held religious beliefs. First, about acting in life based on one’s conscience, and second, that we are all equal in the eyes of God.”
She also revealed that she and her husband first discussed the idea of running for mayor with Riordan during a trip to Rome for the elevation of then-Archbishop Mahony to the rank of cardinal by St. Pope John Paul II in 1991.
In a homily sprinkled with anecdotes from their decades-long relationship, Msgr. Torgerson described Riordan as a mentor, parishioner, and friend. Along with others, he fondly recalled a motto Riordan was fond of repeating: “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.”
His life, he said, echoed the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was sick or imprisoned, you visited me.”
To that end, Torgerson said, Riordan “cared for the poor. He worked to make a difference. He loved Los Angeles. Loved it. Worked hard, especially for those who have less. That was his great gift.”