Six Months into Retirement, Dick Rourke Succumbs to Heart Attack

January 8, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- Six months after stepping away from his beloved Ricardo’s Cafe Trattoria, Richard “Dick” Rourke, a staple of the city’s philanthropic community and an iconic restaurateur, died Sunday at the age of 74.

For more than 18 years, Rourke -- or “Ricardo” as friends and customers called him -- could be found charming new patrons and old friends at Ricardo’s or leading wine tastings at Tutto Bene wine shop on Prescott Street. He closed his restaurant in July and sold his wine shop in order to spend more time with his family.

Rourke was traveling back to Lowell with his wife, Catherine, after spending several months relaxing at their condominium in Delray Beach, Fla., when he suffered a fatal heart attack, his brother Jack Rourke said Monday.

Ricardo’s upscale food and wine selections attracted many local luminaries and played host to cardinals, famous musicians, and renowned athletes. But Rourke never lost touch with his community, according to friends and family, and was always ready with an open hand to assist with events like the Lowell Folk Festival and Winterfest or charities, such as the Salvation Army.


“He was a tremendous man,” said Arthur Sutcliffe, chairman of the Lowell Festival Foundation and a long-time friend of Rourke’s. “He would do anything for the community, anything for Lowell ... It’s a sad day for me, and for the city, to lose a man like Richard.”

Rourke was born in 1943, the son of former Lowell mayor and state Rep. Raymond Rourke and his wife Rita (LaCoss) Rourke.

He attended the Keith Academy before going on to graduate from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst.

“I couldn’t understand why he would go to an agricultural school, growing up in an industrial city like this,” Jack Rourke said. “But that was his love, he wanted to go into the food business.”

Rourke worked for several food companies, including Hood and Commodore Foods, before deciding to take a risk and open his own restaurant on Gorham Street at the age of 55. His endearing style of chatting with customers, talking about his travels, and bringing Italian cuisine to Ricardo’s rich standard served to put his restaurant on everyone’s go-to list for many years. Patrons would line the sidewalk, hoping to get a table on weekend nights. Once inside, they often found performers and celebrities who had just finished their acts at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium or the Tsongas Arena. The night wouldn’t be officials over until Ricardo serenaded the crowd with his own version of a classic Frank Sinatra song.

Rourke had a tremendous work ethic, friends and family remembered, and made many close friends out of the diners who frequented Ricardo’s.

In addition to his wife, Catherine, Rourke leaves behind two sons, Patrick Rourke, of Norfolk, Va., and Colin Rourke, of Dracut, and one granddaughter.

Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter @ToddFeathers.