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Mark Riordan was mostly nonverbal, and had a vocabulary of about 12 words, but his fun and loving personality came across loud and clear.
Mr. Riordan, who had Down syndrome and needed full-time care throughout his life, idolized Elvis Presley and loved family, ferries, pizza, baseball cards and everything about Christmas. He also had style: He wore a tie most of the time because he loved getting dressed up, and he always wore a watch — the bigger the better — despite being unable to tell time.
Mr. Riordan died April 24 in Tacoma from complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was 69.
The fourth of five brothers, Mr. Riordan was also a doting uncle. And, said sister-in-law Dianne Riordan, the kids adored him too.
“He gave a hearty hug and liked getting them in return,” she said.
He grew up at the Rainier School in Buckley, a habilitation center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
His brother Tom was 17 when they first met — three years older than Mr. Riordan. Dianne, who was dating Tom, came along. They had no idea what to expect.
The young Mr. Riordan was waiting for the couple in a sports coat, white shirt, slacks and a tie.
“He looked dashing,” Dianne said.
When he saw Dianne, Mr. Riordan said, “Hubba hubba!” — a phrase he used to describe pretty girls.
“He would touch her hair and laugh, and as I would watch their interaction, I was amazed by his manners and gentleness,” Tom Riordan said.
They went out to lunch, and Mr. Riordan cried when it was time for them to leave. Tom, meanwhile, “cried inside.”
“I enjoyed Mark,” Tom Riordan said of that first meeting. “He was funny, kind, a gentleman and my brother. Dianne thought he was wonderful, and we both wanted to see him more, and we did.”
When Mr. Riordan’s mother, Vera, died, Tom and Dianne went to see him.
“Tom explained that Mama, as Mark called her, had passed away,” Dianne said. “He sat quiet and thoughtful for a few moments. Then he turned and looked at me and said, ‘Mama.’ I had just become that figure for him. His great love showed itself, again. He understood more than he got credit for. After that day, he often referred to me as ‘Mama.’ I was more than proud.”
Mr. Riordan transitioned to shared living with caregivers as an adult, and lived in several different places. His rooms always contained his full-size Elvis Presley statue and six Elvis Christmas stockings that were thumbtacked to his wall all year long.
“He had every movie [Elvis] had ever made, and he watched them so many times, he went through three sets of Elvis Presley movies,” Dianne said. “He learned how to say, ‘Elbes.’ “
He adored Christmas trees and Christmas lights. When his caregivers would turn off the Christmas tree lights at night, Mr. Riordan would wake up and turn them back on.
Mr. Riordan held three jobs during his life, the last one at a commercial laundry in Tacoma.
“He was exceptionally good at it, and enjoyed the work,” Tom said. “Every fold was perfect, and even at home, he loved to fold laundry.”
If someone else folded clothes for him at home, he would redo them to his liking, Dianne said.
“This man had a personality that he couldn’t always express,” she said. “He expressed his joy and his approval and his appreciation through his laughter.”
The last time Mr. Riordan was in the hospital, he was frightened by the heart monitors and IVs.
“I asked the nurse if she could turn on her computer and play some Elvis music for Mark,” Dianne said. “She did, and it calmed him right away. I asked her if she could just continue that music until he fell asleep because it was very soothing for him. It was exactly what he needed.”
About 35 years ago, Mr. Riordan’s caregivers were set to take him to Memphis, Tennessee, to see Presley’s home at Graceland. But when they got to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Mr. Riordan refused to board the plane because he had seen a plane crash in the news not long before.
That was when he was introduced to ferry rides, and he loved them. He carried ferry schedules in the pockets of his dress shirts, alongside his baseball trading cards.
When it is safe to gather, family members will honor Mr. Riordan by distributing some of his ashes into Puget Sound from a ferry, then having pizza.
“He loved family, and he loved being around people,” Tom said. “The simple joys in his life just took away a lot of the stress out of our lives, just watching him.”
Said Dianne: “He gave more love in his lifetime than some people will ever know in theirs.”