Thursday, January 8, 2009

Family & Friends

Fred has three children that were born to him, lots of cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, students... The people who consider him a father figure go way beyond blood lines. Please add your stories here.


  1. As we all know, Fred was an brilliant man - a great scientist and a great thinker, even asleep! How funny is this.. Fred had the uncanny ability to fall asleep in the middle of a party, while people carried in conversations around him. At the appropriate moment, he would awake and say something meaningful about whatever people were discussing. Somehow, he had been following the conversations!!

  2. This letter came to us just after Fred died. I asked David if I could post it and he said ok. Thank you David!

    Jan. 7, 2009

    Dear Uncle Fred,

    It seems so trite right now, but I want to just say a few words of thankyou for all you've given me over the years. The little things that seem so small at the time but which seem to stick with you always.

    Thank you - thank you for being there. Cheese and crackers at 11:00ses, puffed optics, why one should use a "C" clamp when building something, your confidence in my young engineering talents when building a railroad. Thank you for impressing me by calculating latitude in your head after a sun shot - and making me strive for the same. Thank you for your interest in why a forestry variable sample plot prism works and why I should, too.

    Thank you for encouraging me to tie the anchor rope to the bow cleat and for not looking stupid in front of a whole boat load of Newfie fishermen. Thank you for the wisdom passed down on why you don't buy the last loaf of bread in a remote Newfoundland fishing port. Thank you for proving radar works on dark stormy nights. Thank you for believing a 15 year old can dock a 40' boat.

    Thank you for so many things. I'll try my best to make you proud!

    Love Always,
    Your "lad"

  3. Posted for Rick & Christine Wellman

    Dear Aunt Sally,

    We are saddened by Uncle Fred’s death and have been thinking of him often over the last few days.

    I learned on my recent visit that Fred didn’t always enjoy teaching, which I found astonishing. As all of us nieces and nephews sailed and visited with Fred and you, we were regularly reminded by him that we were “young whippersnappers” and deserving of a “puffed optic” unless we paid closer attention. So we paid attention and were taught. We learned piloting and celestial navigation, when going somewhere you don’t belong always leave the centerboard down a foot so you know when you are about to run aground and how to kedge off when you inevitably do, diesel engine maintenance, how to make a proper match rocket (you need the foil from Carlsberg beer bottles), do it right and do it once, redundancy is good, how to judge Fred’s mood by Shimmelfennig cigarillos smoked per hour, and that he wasn’t always asleep at the table after dinner.

    Fred surrounded himself with technology, gadgets and machines. Still, he complained bitterly about technology replacing his beloved sextant, and he kept that sextant, taffrail log, and sounding lead under the seat just in case the other three redundant systems failed (and yes, we had to use that lead once). Any challenge was worthy of consideration. When touring a sawmill and learning that metal detectors couldn’t find ceramic spikes in trees, Fred consulted with colleagues and found a solution (if only NMR imaging weren’t so expensive). It seemed Fred could solve anything with planning and the right equipment, and he almost always had the equipment at hand. Whether it was fancy brass bearings for a gimbaled table or custom galvanized shackles for a rubber tire breakwater he could go out to the garage and make them. I remember him saying the one thing about technology that made him nuts was that with all his knowledge he never backed a biotech startup winner.

    We will certainly miss Fred, but we thank him for the memories and knowledge that remain. We extend our deepest sympathies to you, George and Sally, and Sally and Ruth.

    Rick and Christine

  4. Posted for Rick & Christine Wellman

    Christine and I were laughing last night about a sailing trip to Newfoundland we went on with Sally and Fred years ago. Our shipmates had brought a whole cooked turkey and some wine with them to St. Johns for our first night on the boat. Hekla had enough stuff aboard that we could have left for Europe that afternoon and made it with only a quick stop in Iceland for fresh vegetables, but was there a corkscrew? No. Undaunted we considered knocking the neck off the bottle, pushing the cork in, … . Horrified by such inelegant solutions, Fred “McGyver” Richards disappeared into a drawer, surfaced with a screwdriver, large brass screw and vise grips, and voila - wine with dinner. Classic Fred.

  5. I first met Fred Richards on a Woods Trip some years ago. Fred had married into the family, I was a hired gun, and so we both fit a definition of “outsiders” (although Fred was clearly much further to the inside than I). We found ourselves sitting across from each other at a narrow lunch table. Fred warmed up the conversation by asking me what I did and for whom I did it. Returning the favor, I asked Fred what he did. The conversation went something like this.

    FR: “I teach at Yale.”

    NW: “What’s your field?”

    FR: “I’m a biophysicist.”

    NW: “Oh. I have a brother-in-law who is a biophysicist.”

    FR: “Its a pretty small field; I might know him.”

    NW: “Adrian Parsegian. He has worked as a research scientist at NIH for many years.”

    FR: “Of course I know Adrian. Know him well. Excellent scientist. Excellent.”

    Then a half second pause, followed by,

    FR: “Ned, I cannot think of anyone less likely to be your brother-in-law.”

    Well, I needed a bit more than half a second to consider that. Fred could not mean that I did not look Armenian enough, since he had clearly said “brother-in-law” and not “brother”. I searched for other potential meanings, but all I could come up with on short notice was that I did not look bright enough to be Adrian’s brother-in-law. Not wishing to explore that possibility, I said,

    NW: “I will take that as a compliment to both of us.”

    Fred gave me an enigmatic smile, and the conversation moved on to other topics.

    Ned Watts

  6. I asked David Wellman about the reason for not buying the last loaf of bread and here is his explanation:

    Okay, so there we were standing in the left hand isle of the two isle "store" in some out of the way place. We had gone ashore with instructions "by Sally" to get supplies. One of which was bread. I picked up the last loaf on the shelf. Fred looked at me and thought a moment and instructed me to put it back.

    Confused and knowing Sally would be angry Fred said he would talk to me later. We paid up on the other stuff we got and left. On the dingy ride back to the boat he said "there are people here who know exactly how many loaves of bread are on the shelf, when the next supply boat is coming, and that that one loaf left is probably spoken for by someone in the town expecting it to be there when they come in to get it. There is not enough for us. We will be fine." Back at the boat Sally knew exactly what we had done, wasn't mad at all, and yes we were fine.

  7. Dad was always interested in what the various members of the family were doing. Today, it is with a heavy heart that I found out that his one and only niece died on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009. Marianna Pinchot Avery passed away after an accident doing what she loved best, working with her horses. While we are trying to figure out how the world works without Dad in it, we now will miss Marianna's cheeful spark and the link we had through her with our grandparents George and Marianna Richards. We are sure Dad would join with us in sending condolences to her husband, Don, and her son Joel.

  8. Fred was my grandfather, and though I know he gave much much in the way of useful advice throughout my life, this is the one that I remember most clearly. We were at a family reunion when I was about 14 or so. There was a dinner, and at the cocktail reception before hand Grandpa Fred comes up to me and says

    "I'm going to teach you the single most important piece of social advice you'll ever need to know: Develop a taste for tonic water."

    "Really, why?"

    "You start out the evening with a gin and tonic. Make the rounds and be sure that everyone knows that's what you're drinking. After that, you just keep going back to the bartender and asking for straight tonic."


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