On a visit to Peoria to perform a benefit for the Afro-American Black Peoples Federation in March 1969, Richard visited his ailing mother Gertrude at Methodist Hospital.
Richard had not had much contact with his mother since the 1940s, so this bedside visit may have been highly charged. In the twenty-three years since her divorce from Richard’s father, Gertrude had married a man by the last name of Emanuel (though she was no longer with him); had filled out in weight and lost several of her front teeth; and had contracted a cancer that was sapping her strength. After her ex-husband Buck’s death in 1968, Gertrude had re-entered the Pryor family circle, living at 1319 Millman with her former mother-in-law Marie and three other members of the Pryor family. No more than fifty, she had been ravaged by time and her cancer. Still, in advance of her son’s visit, she applied her makeup and put herself together as if it were Sunday.
In this photograph—taken by a Peoria Journal Star photographer though it never appeared in the newspaper—Richard looks at Gertrude warmly and appears to have just cracked a joke. Her eyes are crinkling at the edges, her mouth wide with laughter.
During this visit to Peoria, Richard told the Peoria Journal Star reporter that he hoped to fly Gertrude out to Los Angeles so that she could live with him, but that plan never came to fruition. Gertrude died shortly after her son’s visit, by one account in New York City. Richard never mentioned having attended her funeral.