All images courtesy Susan del Toro
Sue Del Toro – once the Admin Secretary for what was then the BPA – met Richard in a pub.
Okay, that’s not strictly true. She met him seven years before that, when she was working behind the reception desk at De Montford University – and again, a few years later, from behind yet another desk at yet another company. She was married to someone else at the time, so she didn’t remember either interaction. He, however, very much did – and, on that momentous night at the pub, the wait for her attention was over.
“He told me he remembered me from all those years before,” Sue muses, a tender smile turning up the edges of her mouth. “Third time lucky.”
As it turns out, that meeting would change both their lives immeasurably.
Sue was up to her eyeballs in parachuting by the time she met Richard. Not only did she work in a very public-facing role for the BPA, but she was herself a skydiver – as well as an active, passionate BPA judge.
Richard himself wasn’t entirely new to the sky. He had completed several static line jumps, near a village called Pendlebury, as part of his training when he was a young soldier. His work for the Army, however, wasn’t as a para. He was in the Royal Anglians, operating heavy artillery, and he hadn’t returned to the sport as a fun jumper. He was, however, technically experienced – so it was the most natural thing in the world, not long after the two had their first proper meeting, that Sue invited Richard to come along to Langar to hop onto a static line course. He was as game as anything, but the pair had to switch gears when the midlands weather didn’t play along. Iron-willed, Richard packed a bag and hoofed it over to Empuriabrava, absolutely determined to finish the job with an AFF. He, perhaps of course, came back to Sue completely qualified.
It was 2001.
“He’d been doing pretty humdrum things for a living since the Army,” she explains. “And the skydiving world absolutely lit him up. It opened right up for him, like he had always belonged there.”
It was when Sue took him along to watch her judge the Scottish Nationals, however, that Richard really hit his stride.
“Everything about competition excited him,” Sue smiles. “Being at the DZ…spending time with a great team…the intensity of it…everything about competitions, he absolutely loved.”
After dipping a toe in “to be sure he knew what he was getting himself into” at Langar, Richard followed in Sue’s footsteps and started judging in earnest in 2002. The couple judged mainly CF and CP, alongside some Accuracy, and Richard’s judging performance did Sue proud right from the start.
“He was so professional. No matter what happened, he took it in his stride,” Sue remembers. “When you’re the chief judge and you have issues to sort out with the jumpers, it can get heated…but that never fazed him at all. He was unflappable.”
“He always made sure that everyone was safe,” she continues, “and if he felt they were not, he would always take them to one side, speak to them as if they were his best buddy and put it back to rights right there and then.”
“It wasn’t what he said,” she adds. “It’s what he didn’t say.”
Richard’s quiet, powerful style made him a sought-after judge on the circuit. (He even received an enviable invite to travel to judge in Dubai.) Many BPA jumpers and competitors will remember Richard as one of the “Mupateers”, a self-named group of judges that also included Dave McMinn, Bob Charters, and Don Thompson.
Sue and Richard were married for ten years. For six of those years, they judged side-by-side – predominantly scooting around the UK and Germany in a campervan bought on the spur of the moment, merrily bopping from DZ to DZ.
“Richard loved that we never knew where we were going to end up next,” Sue grins. “He’d always say, ‘let’s just go and have a look’ – he really lived in the moment.”
For those years, the couple went together to judge “every single competition”, enjoying their shared hobby in a very particular way: showing up a day or so early for every competition and catching a few jumps together before the festivities. They did this all year round: Sue remembers one memorable Christmas season spent at a frozen-over Langar, after which they made a frosty-nosed jump together to celebrate a snowy New Years Day.
“It was so cold up there, I didn’t jump again until April,” Sue laughs.
Since neither had a CF rating, and the pair would share the plane ride up; when the door opened, Richard would always go first and Sue would go after. This was their way.
“He would always watch me land,” she smiles. “And I never, ever trusted anyone else to pack for me.”
After leaving her role with the BPA, Sue broke her leg – not skydiving, but due to an unfortunate tumble in a rabbit hole. Heartbreakingly, she was advised to end her skydiving career on the basis of that injury. Richard decided he didn’t want to jump without her, so both stepped away from their rigs and their judging posts with nothing but good memories and good vibes behind them.
After their shared retirement from skydiving, Richard joined the British Legion, where he served as a Parade Marshal, as a Vice Chairman of the post in Maplethorpe and as part of the Poppy Appeal, where he helped direct volunteers. Despite their distance from the active sport, both stayed friends with a great many British parachutists. Skydivers still recognised Richard on the street long after his last judging event – he was that memorable.
Richard passed away peacefully with Sue at his side on the 20th of October this year, 17 years after that fateful third-time’s-a-charm meeting at the pub.
When he passed, Sue remembers, a shadow went across the wall, as if someone were slowly waving.
“His mum came for him and took him from me,” she says.
Goodbye, Richard. We’ll miss you.