Slain ballet dancer Richard Rutherford remembered as 'one of the best people'

·3 min read
Richard Rutherford dances in a performance of Bluebird Pas de Deux in 1960. The former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was found dead in Ottawa earlier this month, and police have charged another man with second-degree murder. (Campbell and Chipman photographers/Royal Winnipeg Ballet - image credit)
Richard Rutherford dances in a performance of Bluebird Pas de Deux in 1960. The former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was found dead in Ottawa earlier this month, and police have charged another man with second-degree murder. (Campbell and Chipman photographers/Royal Winnipeg Ballet - image credit)

A former principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet who was killed in Ottawa earlier this month is being remembered for his community work and contributions to Canadian dance.

Richard Rutherford, 87, was found dead April 15 inside a home on Smyth Road.

Police have charged a 69-year-old Ottawa man with second-degree murder in Rutherford's death, but have shared few other details publicly about how he died.

"It was a significant shock for me. I'm still working through it," said Sarah Evans, one of Rutherford's friends. "I think for people who knew him well, it was very hard to hear what happened."

Evans worked with Rutherford for five years on the board overseeing the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights — also known as the Human Rights Monument — which she said was a large part of his later life.

He worked to get plaques with Indigenous languages on the Elgin Street monument and organized a dance troupe to perform at it every year.

"[He] was one of the best people I've known in my life," Evans said.

Submitted by Sarah Evans
Submitted by Sarah Evans

Evans remembered one conversation the two had about his life growing up in the southern United States, before moving to New York City and then to Winnipeg and finally ending up in Ottawa.

Rutherford would eventually spend a significant portion of his life in the nation's capital, Evans said.

"One thing that struck me was how attached he was to Canada and the places he's lived in — and how much he loved Ottawa and the people who lived here," Evans said. "So he was very connected to the community."

Since his death, Evans said she's been emailing other friends of his to hear stories about how they are remembering him.

"He always wanted others to succeed. He's very understated. He gave his support to a number of different cultural and community things."

Martha Swope/Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Martha Swope/Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Raised the standards at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

André Lewis, the artistic director and CEO of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, first met Rutherford in 1975 when Lewis arrived at the ballet school.

At the time, Lewis only spoke French. He said Rutherford, who was the associate director, was very patient with him. They ended up working together for two years.

"He was really very urbane, if you will, in that sense, and very positive," Lewis told CBC's All In A Day.

"Richard raised the standards of the organization by the quality — certainly of his dancing — and later on the quality of his training."

Of Rutherford's time as a dancer for the company, Lewis had only seen videos — but said he cut a compelling figure.

"He certainly had a vitality. He certainly had a presence on stage. He was a very handsome man," Lewis said. "You could tell right away how much he loved connecting with an audience."

Rutherford eventually moved to Ottawa, taking a job as an arts officer managing dance grants for the Canada Council of the Arts.

The two kept in touch however, with Rutherford returning for alumni events at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Whenever Lewis came to dance in Ottawa, Rutherford would meet the dancers backstage.

They last saw each other before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis said.

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