Greenporter made a difference through public service, charity and more

Greenport’s No. 1 cheerleader was a big, hard-hitting lineman for the Greenport High School football team.

Craig Richter (Class of 1967) was a right tackle on one of the great Greenport teams of the era, the 1966 team that went 7-1.

Bob Heaney was the right guard on that team. He once asked Mr. Richter to select a code word to use during games to let Mr. Heaney know when he would go first when the two cross blocked. The word Mr. Richter chose: “cupcakes.” In years to come, it became something of a running joke between the two.

“Every time he would see me, it was ‘cupcakes,’ ” Mr. Heaney recalled in an interview last week.

Sadly, Mr. Heaney will not hear Mr. Richter mention cupcakes any more. Mr. Richter, a lifelong Greenporter, contractor, civic leader, public official, military veteran, volunteer, organizer of charitable causes and so much more, died April 22. He was 72. His wife, Barbara, died in January.

“He had cancer maybe 15 years ago of the larynx, but he kept fighting it off and it would come back and I guess it would spread,” Mr. Heaney said. “He was full of cancer.”

The news of Mr. Richter’s passing was a tough blow for longtime friends such as Dr. Charles Kozora, the former Greenport school superintendent. When Mr. Richter was on the school board, he was Dr. Kozora’s boss.

“He became a personal friend, and I am thankful for that,” Dr. Kozora said in a phone interview. “I cried when he died. I got tears in my eyes right now. He was a great civic personality, and he always had — in my contacts with him — the greater Greenport community’s best interests and the children of Greenport at his foremost thoughts.”

The scope of Mr. Richter’s wide-ranging activities was such that one wondered how he found the time to do them all. Over the course of his life, Mr. Richter served the school board, the Southold Town Board, the Lions and Rotary clubs, the Greenport Fire Department’s Star Hose Company, the Greenport American Legion and Greenport Youth Activities. He served with the United States Navy Seabees for four years. He was a cook for John’s Place, feeding the homeless at St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport.

“He was, bar none, the most giving man in all of Greenport”

Joan Dinizio

Somehow, he found time to run his business, R&R Builders in Greenport, for 49 years.

Mr. Richter also played the role of Santa Claus for various organizations to acclaim, perhaps because he could have been considered a real-life Santa Claus. Friends saw in him a heart as big as the man, continually putting service before self.

“He was, bar none, the most giving man in all of Greenport,” said Joan Dinizio of Greenport, Mr. Heaney’s sister.

Mr. Richter was named The Suffolk Times’ 1995 Civic Person of the Year. An article in the paper announcing the selection told the story of how it came to Mr. Richter’s attention that a Riverhead girl had arrived at school one day during a pre-Christmas cold snap without a winter coat. The next day, a box with a ski coat in the girl’s size was dropped off to a school official.

People who knew Mr. Richter knew he didn’t like such stories of his good deeds and generosity to be told. He preferred to remain anonymous.

“Craig was the lead, go-to guy in everything,” former Greenport school board president Gary Charters said. “It was really unbelievable, and there is so much that he did that we don’t even know. We’ll never know.”

Among Mr. Richter’s other honors were a Rotarian of the Year award and the St. Agnes Medal of Service from the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

John Sabatino of Orient recalled Mr. Richter as a friend of the homeless and the hungry. “If you needed him, he was there, especially with the church,” said Mr. Sabatino.

Gene Mazzaferro of Mattituck, a former Greenport school board member, said: “He was so involved in everything. There wasn’t anything that someone asked him to get involved in that he wouldn’t … He just did a lot of stuff where I would even say, ‘You should get paid for that.’ He’d say, ‘No, no, no. I’m just going to do it.’ He was very, very generous with his time.”

Craig Richter performs renovations at Harry Lewis’ home in Greenport in 2011. (Credit: Julie Lane)

Mr. Richter was described as fun-loving, often smiling, but he could also be tough when he needed to be. Dr. Kozora recalled harsh words exchanged during some closed-door, executive school board sessions when Mr. Richter traded verbal blows with others to get his point across. “And then the meeting’s over,” Dr. Kozora said. “He goes, ‘OK, you want to join us? We’re going out for a beer.’ ”

“He was a man of his word,” Dr. Kozora said. “He was not one who would talk through the side of his mouth. You knew if he liked you, and if he didn’t like you, you knew that, too. He was a straight shooter, without a doubt.”

Mr. Richter epitomized the Navy Seabees’ “Can Do” motto. Ms. Dinizio said her husband, Jim, was inspired to join the Seabees because of Mr. Richter. She said Mr. Dinizio placed a Seabees pin in Mr. Richter’s coffin at his wake.

Mr. Heaney, who knew Mr. Richter since they went to kindergarten together, paid his friend a visit not long before Mr. Richter’s death. “He didn’t look good,” said Mr. Heaney.

Just like old times, Mr. Richter used their code word one final time.

Said Mr. Heaney, “That’s the last thing he said to me, ‘Cupcakes, I think I’m going first.’ ”

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