GIA, industry mourn passing of Richard T. Liddicoat

Alumni, students, officials, and staff of the Gemological Institute of America, as well as jewelers, gemologists and industry leaders around the world, are mourning the death of GIA chairman Richard T. Liddicoat, Jr., known as the Father of Modern Gemology, who died July 23.

Among the tributes in the first day following his death were these:

GIA president William E. Boyajian called him “a man of incredible dedication and achievement, a man of monumental stature [whose] contributions on behalf of jewelers, gemologists, and the consuming public have changed the course of history.”

Doug Hucker, executive director, American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), said, “I don’t think I have ever known a man or woman of such remarkably low-key demeanor who could provide such leadership and command such respect.”

Matthew A. Runci, president and chief executive officer of Jewelers of America, called Liddicoat’s contributions to gemology and the fine jewelry business “unrivaled by anyone in the industry.”

Former GIA president Glenn Nord said he “set the highest standards of achievement and integrity for everyone at GIA as well as for the entire industry.”

Ruth Batson, interim chief executive officer of the American Gem Society (also created by GIA founder Robert Shipley), noted that “Richard Liddicoat’s knowledgeable and dedicated service to the jewelry industry is legendary, and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

Bill Farmer, president of the AGS, said Liddicoat had been “the living embodiment of gemology. While we can’t truly quantify the depth of this loss, his leadership, as well as his wonderful presence, will be greatly missed.”

Last year, AGS honored Liddicoat—who had attended almost every AGS Conclave since 1940—with its AGS Lifetime Achievement Award. “In remembrance of that day and of his contribution we will have a moment of silence at this year’s event on July 30,” said Farmer.

GIA announced July 24 that it will host a memorial and remembrance of the former chairman on Aug. 24 at its Carlsbad, Calif., campus to “allow his friends and colleagues from all avenues of life and all parts of the world to join in this special celebration [of the life] of this remarkable man.” Some from overseas have already made arrangements to attend. The event is expected to be a Who’s Who of the trade, paying tribute to the man who was instrumental in making the industry what it is today.

Information about the event is available by calling GIA at (760) 603-4349 or on GIA’s Web site (www.gia.org), which also has a link to the article in the current Gems & Gemology journal commemorating Liddicoat’s 50 years as chief editor of the GIA journal and his life at GIA.

However, GIA staff, students, and friends held a short impromptu gathering at the Carlsbad campus at about 4:30 July 24 to talk about the man known to so many as mentor, friend, teacher, boss, and “Mr. GIA.” A number of long-time GIA staffers, including a few who saw him as recently as Saturday at his Santa Monica, Calif., home, where he was bedridden, shared their memories of him and what he had meant to their lives. Almost to the end, noted some, he was deeply interested and actively involved with GIA and the gemological community. Other old-timers, though, were too grief-stricken to speak. “It was too tough,” said one who was there.

Liddicoat was a man of many accomplishments who made numerous contributions to the gem and jewelry industry during his 62 years with GIA.

“For many of us, however, Richard Liddicoat’s greatest achievement was his personal influence on the professionalism and ethical standards of the international gem and jewelry industry,” said GIA president William E. Boyajian in a special July 24 edition of the online GIA Insider. “His contributions on behalf of jewelers, gemologists, and the consuming public have changed the course of history. Gemology, once a trade, is now a respected profession. Gemology, once a page in a geology textbook, is now a science in its own right. A part of GIA died last night and left a void that will never be filled. But Richard Liddicoat’s legacy lives on in every student who ever took a GIA course, in every staff member he guided and supported.”

Speaking personally, Boyajian, who joined GIA in 1975, said “for 27 years, Richard Liddicoat was not only my mentor, but also a true friend and father figure. He was outstanding in every way: a leader, a scholar, and someone who knew what it meant to be deeply human. I for one will cherish the moments we shared, the things I learned, and the inspiration I gained through knowing and working alongside him.”

Glenn Nord served as Liddicoat’s right hand in running the Institute in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and succeeded him as president of GIA in 1983. He served in that position until Boyajian was appointed in 1986. Nord was another who called Liddicoat a mentor and friend. “Richard T. Liddicoat meant the world to me, and I’ll miss him deeply,” he said. “He inspired me to excel in gemology and as a person, and he set the highest standards of achievement and integrity for everyone at GIA, students and staff alike, as well as for the entire industry. We’ll not see a man of his character and significance for a long, long time.”

Doug Hucker recalls the time Liddicoat first hired him at GIA as a life-changing moment. “I suppose there is are those moment in everyone’s life that, as mundane as they may seem at the time, are truly filled with such import that they imprint themselves in our minds forever,” Hucker said. “Years ago I sat in Mr. Liddicoat’s office in Santa Monica and he hired me to teach at the GIA. Not a really stirring moment. He was typically soft spoken—had those merry eyes—he almost nervously offered me a job and changed my life forever. I don’t think I have ever known a man or woman of such remarkably low-key demeanor who could provide such leadership and command such respect.

“He taught me that gemstones could actually make your heart skip a beat. He showed me that substance always trumps style. He helped me understand that to truly be a gemstone person you had to have equal parts knowledge and passion. He made me appreciate that a great man could also be a great guy. Our family has lost a treasure.”

Matthew A. Runci, president and chief executive officer of Jewelers of America, said in a July 25 statement, “Richard T. Liddicoat’s contribution to gemology is unrivaled by anyone in the industry. His development of a diamond grading system and his stewardship of gemological testing, education, and research at GIA were pioneering accomplishments that have enabled the fine jewelry industry to prosper to this very day.

“On behalf of Jewelers of America, its members, and staff,” he said, “I express sincere condolences to Richard’s family and to everyone at GIA. He will be missed.”

Gray Roskin, JCK Senior Editor, G.G., FGA, contributed to this story.