Obituary: Betty Richards
Beatrice Elizabeth Stonington Richards, Betty, a 67-year resident of Darien's Five Mile River Road, the third of seven children of Natalie and Edgar Stonington, passed away Aug. 25. She was 98.
Betty was born on Staten Island on March 2, 1914. She attended primary and secondary private schools there. Her father, Edgar, was the founder of New York cocoa importer Rayner and Stonington. Her family summered at Stony Creek in Branford, and on Fishers Island, N.Y., where Betty became an excellent sailor and a local tennis champion, a sport she continued into her 80's.
Graduating high school at 16, and while awaiting the minimum age to attend Mt. Holyoke College, Betty spent a year in Paris, staying in a pensione owned by a family friend. There she met the internationally famed pianist Rudolf Firkusny, who became a lifelong friend, and developed full fluency in French. She then returned to the U.S., earning her BA from Mt. Holyoke. She was an editor and contributor to college publications.
After college Betty attended the school of International Studies in Geneva. She then began a career in advertising, one of the few occupations open to women at that time. The family moved to Sunswyck Road in Darien in 1938. They gave the town its first ambulance.
She and Roland Richards, a Darien native, were married in August 1941. They began their lives together first in Seattle and then in San Francisco, where Roland, then a Special Agent of the FBI, was stationed. After Pearl Harbor, Betty became active in the Red Cross, and until her first son was born, instructed defense and shipyard workers on first aid. In 1945, Betty, Roland and son Eric returned to Darien, moving to their current residence on Five Mile River Road. 17 months later a second son, Gregory, arrived.
Betty was a strong, renaissance woman, ahead of her time. Her enthusiasm, zest for life, fine character, integrity, drive, breadth of interests and regal bearing infused all that she accomplished and guided her throughout her life. She has become a role model for future generations of the family's girls.
Throughout school and ever after, Betty loved to write. She published articles in magazines including The Saturday Evening Post and American Girl, and collaborated on ABC's Theater Five radio drama series with Helene Bowman and celebrated actor Lee Bowman.
Betty studied with Lajos Egri, the outstanding literary coach in New York. Betty's first novel, “Jilla,” is a mystery set in Vermont.
“The Ravishers, her second book, is a detailed historical novel about a girl growing up in 18th century Ireland under British oppression. Betty, who wrote under the name, Elizabeth Richards, spent five years researching 18th century Ireland, England, the Caribbean, and the triangle trade for this book. Its description of a slave voyage is harrowing. Betty wrote a bound volume of childhood reminiscences and poetry for family distribution titled The Way It Was, plus numerous essays, commentaries and other poems. She also was long involved in a Darien writers group.
In the 1950's she kept on-track the construction of several homes in Darien contracted by Roland for the benefit of his mother. During that period she also oversaw the care of both of her declining parents. Care of her mother-in-law began sometime thereafter and extended to 1980.
Betty played the piano extensively both for her own enjoyment and at gatherings of family and friends. She also hosted numerous bridge parties throughout the decades. Betty returned to school and in 1967 earned her Masters in French from Columbia University. In the 1970's Betty became a real estate investor and a licensed broker, creating and operating Richards Real Estate in the center of Darien.
Betty was active in local affairs. Soon after moving to Darien she became instrumental in cleaning up Five Mile River as household and commercial waste were being dumped untreated directly into the Harbor. Later she served on the Republican Town Committee and on the Board of Governors of the Darien Library. She also served on the Outreach Committee of the First Congregational Church and in the 1950's taught Sunday school there.
She was a former member of the Noroton Yacht Club where at 41 she won the woman single's tennis championship, the Tokeneke Club, and Roton Point Club. At her passing she was a member of the First Congregational Church of Darien and the DCA.
Betty is survived by two sons, Eric of New Canaan and Gregory of New York City; Eric's wife, Cheryle; two grandchildren, Cynthia Richards of Los Angeles, and Caroline Taylor, who with her husband, Stuart, live in Tiburon, CA, with their daughter, Betty's great granddaughter, Vivienne. Betty's husband, Roland, pre-deceased her in 2007. She was the last of seven siblings and had 30 nieces and nephews.
A loving wife and mother, active in her sons' school affairs, Halloween costumes, Christmas, holiday and summer activities, she was much loved and will be greatly missed. A memorial service will be held at the First Congregational Church of Darien at a later time.