Born in Taizhow, China, in 1932, Richard Welton has lived a beautiful and varied life.
His missionary parents served with the Southern Presbyterian mission organization, and he has, at various stages of his life, taught music to school children and Bible College students, served in the Korean war, married a woman who spent her twenties in the Congo and, now, works as a ‘waver’ for numerous local businesses.
You may know him as the Statue of Liberty man who stands on Scenic Highway and does the “geriatric glide,” as he calls it, encouraging people to stop by Liberty Tax as they drive by. Or, you may have seen him doing something similar in front of Sleep Cheap Mattress, the Tire Depot or New Baby Products, always with a welcoming smile on his face. In fact, Snellville businesses compete to get him to become their waver.
According to his wife, Ann, all the shops say he has contributed to the growth of their business.
Richard began waving for Liberty Tax in 2007. At first, it was just the Lady Liberty costume he was required to wear, but the next year – they introduced The Head.
“It’s most uncomfortable,” he explained, “and makes you claustrophobic. It’s heavy, cumbersome, you can hardly see where you’re going.”
Fortunately, because of his reputation, they let him off the hook and allowed him to continue wearing the Lady Liberty costume. (Other wavers aren't so lucky.)
“He’s the most faithful and best waver they have,” said Ann.
The Man Behind the Mask
Richard returned with his family to the United States when he was only four years old, in 1936. Japan had invaded China, and there were sicknesses in the family. His nearly one-year-old sister had recently passed away while they were still in China.
A few years after returning stateside, the Great War broke out. His father, Dr. Felix Welton, was one day too old to join the service, and so he filled practices for doctors who did go to war. By then, Richard was in first grade. He moved many times as a child, and continued to do so as an adult.
After two years in college as a vocal major, he spent nearly four years serving in Korea. He was released a few months early in order to complete his degree in music.
It was then that Ann and Richard met at the University of Alabama. He was finishing his graduate degree, and she was earning her own degree in French. She had returned recently from the Congo, where she had spent four years with Africa Inland Mission.
And Behind Every Good Man, a Good Woman...
Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1936, she had a profound conversion experience when she was 16 years old. She knew she would serve God in some capacity at some point, but it wasn’t until she attended Bible College that she felt a call to serve him in Africa. And so it was, that as a young woman in her early twenties in 1960s Congo, she found herself fleeing rebels, caring for missionary children and delivering money in bags to schoolteachers.
“It was a powderkeg,” she recalled. Congo was on the brink of independence from Belgium, and foreigners were far from safe. In fact, most were leaving just as she was arriving.
She vividly recalls a night when rebels stormed her town. She had just finished reading by kerosene light when she saw the trucks roll in. She knew that these rebels had taken many women from nearby villages, most of whom were never seen again. Although they pulled up to her house, she believes that God blinded them to her home. They pulled away again, leaving her in safety.
Others were not so lucky. She found out later that a young missionary family with two small girls had been brutally killed by the river. She had cared for their daughters during her time in Congo. Once she left, she never went back, and years went by before she was able to even revisit the memories.
After marriage, she stayed home to raise her children while Richard worked a number of jobs. In 2001, she discovered a new passion for real estate and renovating homes. They now live in one such homes, a beautiful cabin that Ann estimates was built in the '40s and moved to its current location in Snellville in the mid-60s.
Richard and Ann have lived in Gwinnett County for over twenty years now. Their children, Deirdre Welton Russell and Stephen Welton, both graduated from Brookwood High School in 1987 and 1989 respectively. Their toy poodle, Daisy Good Doggy Underfoot, is their faithful companion.
In his spare time, Richard is composing an entire opera. It is clear that music and his faith are still among his top passions. Tears spring to his eyes as he describes the various arias about Rabbi Kohel, a man who realizes truths about Jesus long after he met him in person.
"I'm an 80-year-old man," he said, shaking his head. "I just hope that I can see this performed before I die."
So think of that, the next time you see the Statue of Liberty man waving to you as you're stopped at a light. He's probably composing an aria in his head as he's waving you on over to the tax man.