Spotlight on Community

Retired stage engineer focuses on helping close to home
Richard Rutherford, at home with wife Beth and son Conrad, amid the tools of his trade.
Photo by Jack Robert

After a long career of lighting up the stages and cranking up the sound at world-class events and venues — including the Academy Awards, shopping malls in Saudi Arabia, and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum — Richard Rutherford is now working behind the scenes from his secluded home deep in the mountainous woods above Saluda.

The driveway to the house where he, his wife, and their son live is about a quarter mile of steep but gentle turns through shady forests. Tall hardwoods and native plants such as mountain laurel and rhododendron grow close to new asphalt. Drive closer and the landscape grows fanciful, with artsy bric-a-brac carefully placed along the way. 

The 2,200-square-foot home with rough-cut cedar-plank siding is nestled into the forest without a neighbor in sight. The house, stone patio, outbuildings, and garage surround the circular drive, creating a haven for small statues of fairies, elves, and animals that are intermingled with select stones, one-of-kind plants, and other garden curiosities.

The evidence of a life well lived grows as Richard, a distinguished and sturdy 67-year-old with a tin coffee cup in hand, emerges on the front porch, surrounded by a menagerie of friendly cats and excited small dogs. 

“Coffee? Tea? Homemade cookies?” he offers.

He has his man cave…
Photo by Jack Robert

The home’s interior is filled with art and mementos from around the world. Richard gives his wife Beth, an unsung artist, credit for tastefully arranging the trove of treasures. And yet, she has her space upstairs under skylights, and he has his man cave in the garage, where he keeps his late-model Corvette Z06.   There’s also special room for his multiple guitars and enough sound equipment to power a public concert.

…She has her well-lighted displays of mementos from around the world.
Photo by Jack Robert

A self-confessed “talker,” Richard is not shy about his life and career, both of which are complex and extensive with world travel, professional accomplishments, and the desire to do more and better. He could drop names of the rich and famous, if he chose. Though retired, he keeps his fingers in a few business pies, one of which has keywords such as “congressional budget… NASA … seen from the Space Station.” Since relocating to Saluda four years ago, he has fully embraced small-town life and become involved with establishing Mountain Page Theater, a children’s theater company, providing professional advice and state-of-the art lighting and sound equipment. He’s even acted in some of the shows. 

So far, his goal to “make first impressions again” has succeeded. 

As a professional in high-end sound and light engineering for some of the world’s most glamorous venues, why spend your time helping a small North Carolina town with children’s plays?

Sometimes you look around and you see a need; then you look in the mirror and realize you may be the only person for the job. When my friend Corinne Gerwe started Young Acting Krew (YAK) and it evolved into Mountain Page Theater — and it was a quarter mile down the road from my house — I had no choice. The opportunity to give back has been a gift.

How did you choose Saluda as the place to semi-retire?

 We had planned a trip to look at houses in Georgia, with one or two exceptions in North Carolina. After 38 houses and six days, we were exhausted and ready to fly home. The house in Saluda just came on the market the day we were leaving. I said, “What is a Saluda?” We came, we saw, and it checked off most of our desires. We made a deal in the driveway via phone, went to Main Street, and got an ice-cream cone to celebrate.

Your home and property are very interesting. Is this what you had planned for your later years?

We certainly did not desire anything cookie-cutter. We really desired privacy, solitude, and a natural environment. It’s a remarkable place to sit on the porch or relax by the fire with friends. We don’t even have a TV in our living quarters. We wanted to turn the “volume” way down. Our home is a safe place for those in need.

Though retired, the lighting-and-sound engineer uses his expertise as a volunteer for Mountain Page Theater in Saluda.
Photo by Jack Robert

A while back you had an aortic dissection, where the artery from your heart basically tore apart. You flatlined for 30 minutes. How did that change your life?

I think maybe what happened to me is secondary. That event created a change for the EMTs, the helicopter pilots, the surgeons, my wife, my son, my daughter, my pastor, and my friend who called 911. They all have a perspective and experience that I don’t. They all have great stories. While I had some deep experiences that I won’t share here, essentially I’m just the guy who died for a moment. I am better for it.

You’re a true Renaissance man. What drives you to study philosophy, play multiple musical instruments, collect race cars, raise funds for wounded military veterans, and mentor children in acting?

I have been fortunate for all the mentors in my life who taught me the value of education, money, relationships, and spiritual matters. Great leadership is really about learning, then doing — then giving it away so you can make time to learn something else. I may not be a master of much, but I love the people I have met along the journey. I believe you should say “yes” to everything you can. Try it once at least.

You say that comedy clubs and churches are similar. How’s that?

Technically, the desired results are the same. One person, downstage center, delivers a personal message to another human being in the back row. The clear connection between people makes the experience work.

At what point in your life did you realize — or believe — you were truly successful?

Exactly at the moment I stopped caring what anybody thought of me. … I’m more concerned with the challenge of continuing a personal journey from success to significance. 

What makes you happy?

Any day I can help create a place for the dignity of self discovery for another human being, I am thrilled.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a man who kept his commitment to his wife and who raised good children. 

Richard Rutherford, Saluda, See “Mountain Page Theater” on Facebook. 

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