Anti-masker becomes mask supporter after hearing former Springfield city councilman’s dying wish

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 6:53 PM CST
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A staunch member of the opposition against Springfield’s mask mandate has now done an about-face.

Now he’s challenging others to wear a mask after hearing the dying wish of a former council member.

”For the longest time I’ve been against this darn thing,” Erik Richards said from his south Springfield home as he pointed to the mask he was wearing.

Richards is well known to city officials as he has spent many hours writing scathing messages to the city administration opposing the mask mandate that’s now been extended until April 9.

“For nine months he just hammered the city on social media, private messaging, public messaging, on the city’s pages and on the health department’s pages about masking,” recalled Cora Scott, Springfield’s Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement. “He was very angry but he also had some questions. He really wanted to understand everything behind it.”

But this past weekend Richards had a change of heart after hearing that former city councilman Tommy Bieker had passed away at the age of 40 after a battle with leukemia.

Just four days before he died Bieker had written a final message to the city he loved.

“He asked that people mask up and that we love one another,” Scott said. “That we should focus on the small things because they make a big difference and he wanted to remind people of what a great community we live in.”

After hearing of Bieker’s dying wishes Richards, a father of two young children, decided it was time to mask up, much to the astonishment of his wife Tina.

“It was really shocking,” she said. “He’s been against masks all this time. He’d even complain when other people wore one.”

Erik and Tommy were both the same age and attended Parkview High School at the same time. But they didn’t know each other.

So why did Erik decide to wear a mask to in honor of his late classmate?

“I didn’t know the guy but I still respected him,” Richards replied. “I wanted to do something to honor him and I thought, ‘Let’s do a 100-day mask challenge!’”

Erik is hoping that like the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS, residents throughout the region will nominate their friends to wear a mask for the next 100 days.

Scott said the city would be glad to help out.

“The United Way of the Ozarks is willing to donate 5,000 masks but Erik’s already done the work,” she said with a smile.

Richards sudden change of heart has been met by a lot of negative comments on social media.

“People have already said I’m a sellout,” he said.

But the family is steadfast in its decision.

“Because it’s starting to get real,” Tina said.

“In life we have to do things we don’t like,” Erik added.

And the mandate is something Richards still doesn’t like although he regrets the way he reacted in pouring out his rage on city officials.

“It causes a lot of people to be bitter and say things they normally wouldn’t say,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I’ve said.”

“Everybody is going through a really difficult time right now,” Scott said. “This is a time for grace but I think this shows that we’re actually more alike than we are different. I also think it’s amazing because Tommy would be so pleased to know that one of his last acts has made a difference in at least one other life.”

And Erik is hoping that more lives will be touched by Tommy’s last wish if people will take up the challenge to wear a mask for the next 100 days.

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