Richard H. Gibson died peacefully in hospice care at Seashore Point on Jan. 10, 2024 with his partner of 48 years, Jerry Cassese, at his bedside. The cause was diabetes-related cirrhosis. He was 82.
The son of Donald Gibson and Dorothy (Smyth) Gibson, Rich was born in Passaic, N.J. on Feb. 12, 1941 and raised in Clifton, where he spent most of his life. His paternal grandfather, who had emigrated from Scotland, was a vaudevillian, and when Rich was a child he learned the Scottish sword dance from him.
His mother was struck by how well her son performed, so she enrolled him in the Ruth Cater School of Dancing when he was seven. A skilled seamstress, Dorothy supported her son’s training by making costumes for Ruth and her students. The school was top-tier, and studying there enabled Rich to continue his training at the Carnegie Hall Dance Studio.
Rich’s skill was recognized by Vera Nemtchinova, who had been a dancer with the Ballets Russes and later the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo; she was known as a demanding teacher who chose only the best dancers as her students. Training with her was a thrilling achievement for Rich.
His ability to dance in a wide range of genres, including ballet, jazz, tap, and even classical Indian styles, was recognized by scouts who signed him to dance in television commercials in the 1950s. Many of the commercials were aired live in those years, and Rich danced in ads for Buster Brown shoes and Hoffman sodas. He also had a turn on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Through his teens, he danced in variety shows in New York City and in New Jersey.
After graduating from Clifton High School in 1957, Rich spent a year in Florida, dancing with Ruth Cater’s dance company. When he returned to New Jersey, he took a job with what was then Hoffmann-LaRoche Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss company that employed some 4,000 people in Nutley, N.J.
There he gave up a potential career in dance for one in computer science. Working his way up the ladder at Hoffmann-Roche, Rich trained in computer operations in the days when computers covered a whole wall and sprouted more wires than one can now imagine. Rich eventually became manager of computer operations.
The company not only valued Rich’s computer skills but also gave him the opportunity to keep dancing by sponsoring a community production of the musical Sugar, based on the film Some Like It Hot. Rich choreographed the dance and starred in the role of Spatz, the tap-dancing gang leader. He retired from the company at 50 after 32 years.
Rich was involved with the Presbyterian Church in Passaic in his teenage years and through his 20s. He was ordained as a deacon, a role that required that he fill in at times for the minister.
One snowy Sunday morning when the service was scheduled for communion, neither the minister nor the congregation could make it in, but Richard did. The bread had already been blessed, so it had to be used. Rather than eating it, which would have been a bit much, Rich took the bread to the park and fed it to the ducks. He later confessed. The minister forgave him but kept the story under wraps.
Rich began vacationing in Provincetown when he was about 19, bringing his son from an unsuccessful marriage with him. In those days, around 1960, there were still wooden sidewalks in town, and Rich would push the pram with his baby son bouncing and laughing as they went.
Rich met Jerry Cassese in the 1970s, and they vacationed together in town for a few years, staying at the Sandpiper Motel. They bought a townhouse in 1986 and retired there in 2005.
In 2002, Rich was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had never smoked, but he had been, during his work years in the ’60s and ’70s, exposed to a great deal of secondhand smoke. In 2006, having had radiation treatments years earlier, he had his larynx removed and used an external electrolarynx to communicate thereafter.
After the surgery, Rich found that children often were curious about the electrolarynx, which worked by pressing a microphone on the throat and mouthing words. The microphone picks up the vibrations and produces sound. Rich taught them how to use it, and when it worked the children were, as Jerry said, “so tickled.”
Rich became a member of the Cape Cod New Voice Club after his surgery, serving as an informal counselor for those about to undergo larynx surgery and becoming president of the group.
In his last years, Rich would visit Herring Cove daily to look at the water and feel the breeze on his skin. He loved to read cookbooks and was a good cook himself, taught by his British grandmother. “He made a great roast beef and Yorkshire pudding,” Jerry said.
Rich is survived by his partner of 48 years, Jerry Cassese of Provincetown; his son, Scott, and former wife Lori of Aubrey, Texas; and many cousins and friends, including Violet and Richard Pasterchick of Lancaster, Pa., Cathy and Ted Lanter of Kendall Park, N.J., Billy and Maureen Brown of Clifton, N.J., Marion Bonnefond of Youngsville, N.C., and Pat Kohlman of Little Falls, N.J.
There will be a graveside service and celebration of Rich’s life at his family plot in Cedar Lawn Cemetery, Paterson, N.J., in the spring.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Rich’s name to the Salvation Army of Massachusetts.