Richard Weaver-Bey was a big, elegant, generous man who couldn't help but say yes to people who came knocking.
"I'd call him a gentle giant," said Ron Copes, Weaver-Bey's cousin and a former executive at MassMutual. "In fact, Richard, I'd say, was nice to a fault. … He had a hard time saying no to people in need, and he had a hard time passing up an opportunity to make the greater Hartford area look better."
Weaver-Bey — affordable housing developer, radio station owner and civic leader — died unexpectedly Saturday. He was 63. The cause of death was not ascertained.Weaver-Bey got his big break in business in 1970, when Harold Rothstein, then-owner of Greater Hartford Realty Management Corp., promoted him to run a division of the company. Weaver-Bey eventually took over that business, building affordable housing.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Weaver-Bey worked together in North Hartford nearly 30 years ago — the mayor as the tenant organizer, Weaver-Bey as the landlord.
"We got to know each other on the sidewalk, working on some of the toughest, low-income rental situations," Perez said. The two became friends and Weaver-Bey was one of the mayor's biggest campaign supporters.
"He had to be personally engaged in everything he did," Perez said. "He did it in a low-key way. But when Richard was in the room, you knew he was in the room, and you know he was very passionate about issues he was involved in."
Weaver-Bey was well-known for his civic pursuits. He was the first African American president of the elite Hartford Club; he was on the state board that oversaw the city's public schools in the late 1990s.
Nancy Roberts, president of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, knew Weaver-Bey through his civic board involvements.
"He did not flaunt his leadership at all. He was very much an elegant guy, I don't know how else to describe it," Roberts said. "He was there for people, and just a lovely man."
Suzanne Hopgood knew Weaver-Bey from an Outward Bound trip they did together in Colorado more than a decade ago. Weaver-Bey used to say that she — much smaller than he — dragged him up the mountain.
"I learned from him how important listening skills were," said Hopgood, a business consultant. "He treated people with enormous respect. Not everybody is like that. In fact, most people are not."
The seventh of eight children, Weaver-Bey grew up in Bloomfield. His parents, both of whom are deceased, were religious — the suffix Bey reflecting membership in the Moorish Science Temple, the original American Islamic group.
After graduation in 1962 from Bloomfield High School, Weaver-Bey found work at a meat company before attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and joining WKND-AM radio as an ad salesman. He later owned the station, before he lost control of it in 2006. The business has been all but liquidated following Weaver-Bey's claims in 2006 that a partner was engaged in misconduct.
Kevin Weaver-Bey, one of his children, said his father was a hard worker who stressed the value of education before any other. Because, from his Albany Avenue and Garden Street office, he saw firsthand what a lack of education could lead to.
"He saw so many kids on the street, hanging out on the corners around the areas where he worked, and he knew that it was a direct result of kids who didn't have a good education," he said.
In a 2004 commencement speech at Bloomfield High, Weaver-Bey spoke about the importance of education and economics.
"Education and economics are the only things that are going to make a real difference in your life," he said.
"When you got a pocket full of legal money, legal money, legal money," Weaver-Bey said, "you can go wherever you want, do whatever you want. You feel real good about yourself."
Staff writers Tina A. Brown, Eric Gershon and Dan Uhlinger contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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