With a nod to Judy Garland, Rich often claimed he “was born in a trunk at the Princess Theatre in Pocatello, Idaho,” but in fact he was born in a hospital in San Francisco on August 5, 1939, the first and only child of Harold and Lavina Harcourt. Other than a few very young years living on a ranch at Camp Roberts during WWII, Rich grew up in the city’s Marina district, shaped by the lively culture and opportunities unique to San Francisco, a city that nurtured his love of classical music and the visual and performing arts. He attended Winfield Scott Elementary School, George Washington High School, and graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1961.
Following college graduation, Rich merged into the U.S. Army from the ROTC program as Captain Harcourt. A hand injury from a faulty weapon sidelined his service in Germany (“when the wall went UP”), and he was reassigned to the Presidio where he found a calling to journalism on the Star Presidian newspaper staff. Such was his love of print media, he soon became the self-described “boy editor” of the San Francisco Progress, a weekly newspaper distributed free to every doorstep in the city.
In 1965, Mr. Harcourt went to Washington to serve as an aide to Congressman William S. Mailliard (R-San Francisco). He soon met and married Nancy Delagnes, a San Franciscan whom he had not met before they both worked for congressmen. Nan is the mother of Rich’s cherished daughters Michele and Andrea, whom he would tell you are his greatest legacy.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is where Rich’s career in the field of nonprofit management had its kick-start. He managed the chamber’s Transportation Division during the construction of the BART system, and later managed the International Division. Rich led the first delegation of San Francisco business leaders to the People’s Republic of China in 1973 when the PRC normalized relations with the United States. In the late 1970s, Rich served as executive director of the Western States Arts Foundation in Denver, followed by positions as executive director of the Kidney Association of Oregon, headquartered in Portland, and the Kidney Association of Southern California in Los Angeles. He later accepted a post-retirement position as development director at Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville.
He began his lifelong dedication to volunteerism for the arts in the 1960s, working closely with the Palace of Fine Arts League in San Francisco that led to the restoration of the Palace of Fine Arts, a beaux-arts landmark built for the 1915 World’s Fair. After moving to Salem in 1981, Rich served on the committee that successfully raised funds to secure restoration of the Historic Elsinore Theatre. He also served as interim director of the Salem Art Association (twice!), was on the board of the Salem Chamber Orchestra, advocated for and became the first chairman of the City of Salem’s Public Art Commission, and most recently, served on the board of the Oregon Artists Series Foundation. He was honored to receive the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce in 2017.
Richard’s story would not be complete without acknowledging his bonus sister, Joanie. Joan Weldon Podell (1930-2021) was an integral part of Rich’s life from very early childhood. He would spend summer vacations visiting Joanie on movie sets in Hollywood where she was making films in the 1950s. Throughout their lives, Rich and Joanie would commemorate their August 5 birthdays together, made all the more fun by celebrating in places like Manhattan, Fort Lauderdale, and Cap d’Antibes. Rich was always joyful listening to recordings of Joanie singing on the Broadway stage in Music Man and Keane, shows he saw live in New York as a young man. In 2011, Impresario Rich hosted a three-day “Joan Weldon B-Movie Film Festival,” free and open to the public at the Historic Elsinore Theatre, where her 1950s films were screened to an enthusiastic audience and Joan appeared in person to talk to fans (of which there are still many)!
Rich and Carolyn Speerstra (who met in San Francisco in the ‘70s) were married by Judge Gordon Sloan in the rural South Salem home of her parents on February 20, 1981. A few years later, they purchased that same house and created many more memories within its cedar-lined walls. As much as he loved his country home, Rich loved to travel! Berlin was his favorite destination throughout the last 20 years, but many trips included visiting nearly every European country, Costa Rica, India, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia, Cuba, The Bahamas, St. Maartin, Mexico, Canada, Hawaii and Alaska – even Zambia and Madagascar with his intrepid explorer brother-in-law, Sam.
Despite vaccinations and boosters, Rich became ill with Covid on his most recent trip, an adventure-filled road trip to Seattle and Vancouver, BC, with his 16-year-old grandson Gabe. Rich departed on his final flight on June 15, 2023, in the arms of Carolyn with his daughters’ loving voices lifting his journey. The devastated family he leaves behind include his wife of 43 years, his daughters Michele Leese (Ray) and Andrea Knott (Kevin), stepsons Chris Stephens (Julie) and Tyler Stephens, brother-in-law, Sam Speerstra (aka Shyamasundar Das), grandchildren Gabe Leese and Bridgette and Lucia Knott. His cousins Rick Sand (Yvonne), Tara Kadium, Pattie Charlton (Jerry) and Victoria Furst Hines will always miss Rich. He also leaves behind the dear family of Joanie: her husband Dr David Podell, daughters Melissa Weinand (Jack) and Claudia Macgruer (Frank). Rich’s Aussie companion, Scout, and feline pals, Neville and Milo, are still waiting for Rich to come home.
Many have said Rich impacted their lives with valuable mentoring that greatly enhanced their professional careers, and many have said Rich always made them feel as if he/she was the most important person in the room; the heartbroken friends he leaves behind are too numerous to count.
There will be a party to celebrate Rich’s life as soon as the family can wrap their collective heads around the reality that he’s not here to plan it. If you wish to make a donation in honor of Rich, you may consider a contribution to any of these 501(c)(3) organizations: the Oregon Artists Series Foundation (oregonartistsseries.com), the Salem Public Library Foundation (splfoundation.org), the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Willamette.edu/arts/hfma) or any local animal rescue organization of your choice.