Rich McDonald may not be a well recognized face on campus, but if he weren't around, his service to the school would be greatly missed at any major event.
As the events technician, a role he has held for 36 years, McDonald assembles and operates the sound and lighting system for almost every sporting, graduation and alumni event.
Hailing from Varina, Virginia, McDonald grew up within close proximity to the University of Richmond while having little contact with it, he said.
He took an auto-body class during his time at Highland Springs High School and thought that he would work at a local car shop after graduation. However, three days before graduation, McDonald was in a serious car wreck and missed out on the opportunity to work, he said.
In 1973, he started working as part of the technical crew for the Richmond Coliseum and city community facilities, he said.
“At that time, the community facilities were Parker Field and The Mosque," McDonald said. "Both have been bought and renamed to what you know as the city baseball diamond and Altria Theater.”
The primary job of the technical team was to set up for shows that would come to the Coliseum and do any electrical work involved at any other site, but McDonald said working for the city for nine years definitely also came with its perks.
“I got to go to all of the shows for free,” McDonald said. “It was during the 70s and early 80s, so I saw groups like The Eagles and ZZ Top.
"I got to see Elvis, which was pretty cool. I even played football with Frank Zappa's crew.”
His favorite show? “I’d have to say my favorite was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were the first quadraphonic sound tour,” he said. “That was an awesome show.”
In the 80s, McDonald switched positions and became the supervisor of the city soccer stadium. Then, when UR bought the stadium from the city in July 1983, the university approached him about an events technician position, he said.
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“I oversee anything that needs any kind of sound setup or electrical work,” he said. “I absolutely love my job because there’s so much variety in it. I’m never doing the same task, always meeting different people and getting to know a lot of the student athletes.”
Over the years, McDonald has collected almost every basketball and football poster as memories of his years at the University, he said. Every inch of his work space, located under the Robins Center's seats, is covered in memorabilia, giving unsuspecting visitors the impression that they've walked into a time capsule.
“It’s all stuff that I just keep,” he said. “I’m a sentimental person.”
If you looked into McDonald's daily life, you might not be surprised to see that no two days look the same. From rewiring lighting in dorms to setting up seasonal events such as Trick or Treat Street, his work goes beyond the typical day-to-day work orders of many other shops on campus.
With his full-time work requirement, McDonald has committed to years of weekend football and basketball games plus countless other events. From August to May, he stays busy with the campus full of students and the constant buzz of events, he said.
The rhythm of running a game or show comes naturally to McDonald after over 30 years at the university, but it isn’t a job well done for him until everything has finished smoothly, he said.
“I’ve had a couple of mix ups,” he said. “Last year at the first home football game, we had fireworks planned for the end of the game, but I accidentally turned off the lights with two minutes still left in the game.”
Like clockwork, McDonald and his small team of technicians work with experience and expectations of seamless efficiency. “I always say that I hope I’ve shown them enough as if they don’t need me there for an event,” he said.
McDonald said working at the university for over 30 years had been a great experience for him and that the university did an amazing job of getting his opinion on major projects that would affect his work.
One thing he has noticed is that the student presence at games is often lacking, he said. “Stay!” he said, when asked what he requests of students. The games are a great way to support fellow students and have a break from the pressure of academics, he said.
“I enjoy coming to work, and I’m happy to say that,” he said.
McDonald plans to retire in July of 2022, and he will leave behind a legacy of sports memorabilia and a welcoming spectator experience not easily forgotten on campus.
Contact writer Emma Phelps at email@example.com
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