Video of the Slide Show from Sally's Memorial Service

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hekla's Table

It’s a gorgeous, if somewhat oddly-shaped table. Made of solid teak wood, it stands about as high as any ordinary dining table. It measures about five feet by one and a half feet with its two leaves folded down. In this configuration, it doesn’t present itself as an obvious place for a meal. More like a large, three-dimensional puzzle really. With leaves extended, it’s a good deal wider at one end than at the other. Lower them again, and they not only come to rest perpendicular to the floor, they can be locked into place with sturdy hooks and eyelets at each end. Upon further examination, you’ll find holes on the bottom of each leg, on the feet, which extend slightly outward, making solid contact with the floor. Why? To accommodate bolts that can secure the table to the surface upon which it rests. Back up top, there are two compartments built into the dining surface. To house eating utensils. And at one end of the table is a hole roughly ten inches in diameter. Why again? To allow passage for the ship’s mast, which begins far above the yacht’s deck and runs fast and far into the hull.

This is the original dining table from the yacht Hekla . It served its purpose reasonably well aboard the boat for years, until Fred wanted something fancier. A gimbaled table. [Wikipedia: “a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. A set of two gimbals, one mounted on the other with pivot axes orthogonal, may be used to allow an object mounted on the innermost gimbal to remain immobile (i.e., vertical in the animation) regardless of the motion of its support.”] So, Fred traded out the original for a gimbaled table that allowed the dining surface to remain at a perfect horizontal regardless of the heel of the boat. Plates of food and mugs of coffee were safe from fall no matter how hard the wind pushed against the sails and tilted the decks below. Fred and Sal gifted Hekla’s original table to my mother, where sometime in the early 70’s it took up residence in our family room.

. . . . .

Pictured left, my father and I aboard Hekla in the early 1970s.

Sally Richards was a formidable presence to any of us who met her as children. I met the Richards at a young age, when my parents rented a house next door to theirs on Nut Plains Road, while we awaited completion of the construction of our home in Leetes Island. Like Penny in her own post, I recall ice skating on the pond in the woods behind their house, and getting a few swimming lessons in a small pool created by the pond’s runoff, filled with catfish. And I can quite clearly picture Sally hauling leaves over to the jungle gym, in her lawn mower’s trailer, to create a pile large enough to break the fall of any child who cared to leap off the structure’s highest bars. Formidable yes – you knew well enough not to break the rules, even if you weren’t sure of what they were – but as a kid you could always count on something fun, too.

Not too long after renting the house on Nut Plains, construction was completed on the house in which I grew up. And not long after that, the Richards also moved, into a fabulous home they built nearby, overlooking Little Harbor, blending into the granite hillside upon which it sat. The house, I thought, mirrored Sally’s and Fred’s personalities: It included the necessary creature comforts, but without a lot off fuss and certainly none of the pretensions of many other nearby homes, the owners of which might just as well have posted their net worth, rather than street numbers, on their mailboxes. The house at 69 Andrews Road stood bold in its understatement. Like Sally.

While Sal was deeply involved in many aspects of life in and around Guilford, those of us kids who drew summer paychecks from her knew her also as the single biggest force propping up the local pre-teen and teenage economies. Sometimes yard work, sometimes research in her basement marine bio lab. Sometimes out in her great, diesel-powered trawler, Ammodytes (named after Ammodytes americanus, the sand eel she studied for years; selling the boat years later and seeing it leave Little Harbor behind was rough on her). Other odd jobs ... cutting grass, learning to use a chain saw, seine fishing, clearing poison ivy, installing a slate walkway, studying the best ways to cultivate Mytilus edulis (the blue mussel).

The wages were good. I eventually saved up enough money to commission the building of a fourteen-foot Brockway fishing boat. It was a handsome vessel, steady amongst the swells of Long Island Sound. And it leaked like a sieve. Worse, I never caught a single fish. But a few months later, Sally (taking pity on me I’m quite certain) said how much she admired the lines of my boat and asked if I wouldn’t consider selling it to her. Just so happens, for the exact amount I paid for it. I happily pocketed her check, and she slapped a couple coats of fiberglass onto the boat’s hull and named it Tern.

. . . . .

By this time, the table we’d taken off Hekla had been transformed from a lightly-used sofa table into a stylish desk with a great future ahead of it. With one leaf open, and with a wooden captain’s chair and tall brass lamp, my mother began her studies in Old English, working towards her PhD, specializing in the epic poem Beowulf. Seated at the table, she looked out into our home’s den: floor-to-ceiling French windows ahead, fireplace and sliding glass door onto the porch on the left. Behind her, a wall of built-in bookcases, resembling a dark cresting wave. Always an over-worked ash tray on the table, and several eight-and-a-half by eleven-inch note pads, which held her ideas on the way to the typewriter.

. . . . .

I don’t think I’ve ever had a true near-death experience. But had I done so, it would have occurred at 69 Andrews Road.

One summer, I was charged with mowing the lawn while the Richards were away on a sailing trip. I was cautioned about the likely outcome of charting a fool’s course with the riding mower along a steep hillside, behind the swing set. “I flipped it there once,” Sally said. Well, so, I flipped it there, too. The mower survived just fine, so I drove the beast up a set of wooden planks into the back of Sally’s pick-up truck and dropped it off at the repair shop. I was shaken less by the potential bodily harm I’d been spared than I was of telling “Mrs. Richards” that I’d done exactly what she’d told me not to do. But when she returned, she simply thanked me for taking the mower in to be fixed.

The following winter, again while they were away, I was put in charge of using Sally’s new truck to plow her and the neighbors’ driveways. I was given only a brief demonstration of how to raise, lower and angle the plow, and how to place the truck into four-wheel drive. Days later, of course, it snowed plenty, and then it snowed some more. I was decent enough at handling the plow, but not the truck to which it was attached, which slid off the pavement and into a stone pillar. I was mortified. But upon her return, Sally remarked that she was surprised I’d done so little damage to her truck.

Of all the things Sally asked me to do, however, the most exciting endeavor (and the one my mother objected to the most) was helping her and Fred rescue Little Harbor’s boats, whose moorings sometimes would slip during hurricanes, gales, or nor’easters. I remember on one occasion trying to maneuver Sal’s thirteen-foot Boston Whaler in large swells towards the stern of a twenty-foot sailboat whose skipper had failed to make fast the anchor line. My performance at this task was rated barely acceptable (I was not, in my own defense, an experienced trans-Atlantic sailor as was the woman shouting course corrections at me). Eventually, one member of our small crew boarded the sailboat, tied a strong bowline knot around the cleat that held the anchor line, and he then jumped overboard.

The commander of the Boston Whaler had decided that our shipmate was more likely to reach shore alive by hurling himself into the surf and being plucked from the water, than by relying on my skills as a helmsman to provide him safe passage back to shore.

One of my favorite jobs and most capital-intensive undertakings, however, was helping with construction of a floating tire breakwater, the purpose of which was to take some of the punch out of storm waves that hit Little Harbor and threatened its boats. The whole thing comprised old tires, foam logs, sprayable foam, conveyor belt and heavy nylon bolts dyed black. (The Army Corps of Engineers required that the bolts be dyed a dark color so as to make for as little an eyesore as possible for those gazing at the whole thing from the shore. For this reason, white wall tires also were prohibited.)The breakwater did, in fact float as planned, but not always where Sally wanted it to. At least once, a gaggle of kids was employed to tow it off the rocky shoreline and haul it back into position.

At some point during this long experiment, we donned scuba gear and inspected the concrete moorings and heavy chains anchoring the flotilla of tires to the shoreline’s muddy floor. In this part of Long Island Sound, there was so much silt and detritus in the water that you could barely see your hands held out in front of you, so care had to be taken to avoid sudden impact between head and mooring. I remember climbing back aboard the boat that awaited us and being offered a variety of soft drinks and eight-ounce cans of horrendously bad beer. Fred said I was old enough to have a beer (I think I was 16), so I did. I told the tale at dinner, and my father was very unhappy with Fred’s ruling. But it was too late to appeal the decision.

. . . . .

After completing her PhD, my mother moved from Guilford, CT, to Carbondale, IL (with a two-year layover in Washington, DC). Hekla’s table was relocated to the Midwest, where my mother took up teaching at Southern Illinois University. I can’t recall where the table sat in my mother’s new home. But a few years later, as my mother’s gathering of new furniture and a few antiques grew to a crescendo, I loaded the ship’s table into the back of my minivan and hauled it to my home in Springfield, VA. It sat for years beneath the family room window, providing both decoration and a good work station on days when I telecommuted from home.

And it travelled with me again, just a mile’s journey this time, when I moved into my apartment one year ago. Having decades ago served Sally, Fred, George and countless friends aboard Hekla, it now sits in my kitchen, both leaves extended, where I share meals with my two sons.

. . . .
I would no sooner part with this table than I would the history, memories, opportunities and encouragement Sally provided me during all those summers, over those many years. She was one of the most important and influential people in my life. I last saw her several years ago, when my boys and I drove up to Guilford to visit my mother, who rented a house there for a couple months each summer. “Well, what do we have here,” Sally said, watching my boys wrestling with croquet mallets. “Just look at them.” We then moved inside the house and each had a midday “drinky poo.”

People can be taken from us. The gifts they’ve left us cannot. Thanks, Sally, for everything.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nut Plains Memories

In the late fall or early winter of 1961, when I was a preteen, my friend Robin Read, who lived down the street from me on Nut Plains Road, said that they had new neighbors who move in across the street from their house. Of course, I asked what were they like. She said she thought they were nice. She didn’t see much of the husband but she thought the wife was nice and pretty friendly. She also told me they were some kind of scientists . He taught at Yale. She did something with fishes. In those days, they were known as Mr. and Mrs. Richards to us kids in the neighborhood. We kept it pretty formal. Something in their demeanor seemed to call for this. I didn’t see much of them to begin with but one summer day I was phoned by Mrs. Richards and asked if I would like to be a play companion, along with Robin, for Mr. Richards two daughters, Sally and Ruthie who were visiting. Now let me make this very clear. Any young person who met Mrs. Richards immediately felt that this was a lady to whom you showed utmost respect and therefore you couldn’t say no. So, there I was saying yes and thus the door was opened to my connection with the Richards. It took me many years get used to calling them by what everyone now remembers them as Sally and Fred.
Over the next nine years this remarkable couple transformed their 19th century house, and also positively affected many of the kids in the nearby neighborhood. Sally worked at home and within a short period of time the neighborhood kids were being recruited for odd jobs. Whether it was house cleaning, moving rocks, building stone walls , helping to build a dam at the nearby pond in the woods or planting pachysandra. It seemed not to be a chore but something “cool” to do. Even though she worked our butts off, we didn’t complain  because she was right by our sides working just as hard and teaching us how to do it correctly. We felt the jobs were worthy and our efforts were praiseworthy. And always, she thanked us for our contributions.

Both Sally and Fred were very athletic and they liked to share their enthusiasms. They were avid tennis players so they built a tennis court and made sure that anyone they knew had access to it. They supplied the rackets and balls if the players were without. All that was asked in payment was that we return the equipment to its storage place after use or tell her if something got broken.

In the cold winter months, when the pond was frozen, the neighborhood kids would clear the snow off the ice for free skating and hockey. One winter, Sally and Fred decided to kick it up a notch, and the next thing we knew Sally was plowing the ice with their Scout jeep with Fred supervising where to go for safety’s sake. In this case, supervision did not always help so we would look on with anticipation of a possible break-through with  Sally and the jeep sinking into the water. It  made for great entertainment watching the whole procedure of winching and rescuing that poor vehicle out of the drink. But that was not the end of the pond story. Fred created a real hockey rink with spiked 2x4’s  and real wooden goals, plus they supplied hockey sticks and pucks. Now this was serious business because neither Sally nor Fred were easy-going players. The games were fast and furious with Sally as one of the more aggressive players . I opted out from playing if she was on the ice. Finally, the Richards’ team was playing so consistently that they gave themselves a name the Nut Plains Nothings. Weather permitting, games were held practically every weekend. All comers welcome. The only requirement: bravery and play your best.

Now, remember these various athletic activities happened during Sally’s “down time.” Her real work was involved with marine biology research, either on her own projects or being tapped by various state or local agencies for her expertise. For one of her outside jobs, she recruited a group of seven boys to help her assess the shad run going up the Connecticut River. That team became known as, Sally and the seven dwarfs.  One of those boys, David Dodge, is still involved with marine work today.

Another of Sally’s major interests involved land preservation and of course she committed herself  totally to getting informed about the local area which meant she walked every piece of land from forests, to fields, to lands for sale, to water company property, to salt marshes  and wetlands. She became a major member of the Guilford Land Trust and was also on the town planning and zoning board.

This all sounds fine and very busy but lets continue adding more things to the list. How about adding out-buildings like garages and workshops to their property and an extra wing to the main house,  and the most major and quite handsome addition … His name is George. For that addition, Sally was instructed by her doctor to please resist moving boulders  at least for the duration. She reluctantly obeyed. But after he was born, and the skills of parenting were established, all her various activities were reinstated.

Did I mention that the Richards sailed? Just small trips like a trans-Atlantic voyage to England during the summer of 1967! For this trip, George was not included with the crew. He stayed with  Robin Read’s family. Sally came back to get him after they got settled in Oxford where Fred was spending his sabbatical year. While there, Sally packed George into a back pack and he saw England from the rear view. For the Christmas vacation I was invited by Sally to come to visit my friend, Susan Russo, who was taking care of George during their stay. I flew over with Fred’s daughters who were also visiting. It was a wonderful holiday in their Oxford house with a side trips to London and as much of the English countryside that we could see in a short time.

Upon returning to Guilford, Sally and Fred resumed their busy lives. They had one more major project on which to focus which eventually brought their stay on Nut Plains to an end. That project was the construction of the beautiful house at 69 Andrews Rd. During that last year of living on my street, I became their built-in babysitter, house sitter and dog sitter. Sally added supervising the construction work of the new house to her busy schedule. Fred inspected the work on weekends. Both were involved with the task of clearing and landscaping that gorgeous but rocky piece of land. This job continued for the rest of their lives. Until just a few years ago, Sally was still doing her own lawn care  and only reluctantly retired her ride-on lawn mower. Snow plowing with her truck was even more reluctantly given up.

By the time Sally moved to Andrews Road, she had laid the ground work for all of her many jobs and concerns to which she felt committed,  locally and nationally, and her new house was perfectly equipped to help her succeed. Whether it was her science lab, her work boats, the office or the dining table, the stage was set to do the job.  Anyone who met her or worked with her came to recognize what we kids on Nut Plains Road had found out early on.  This lady was a force to deal with and you could put your trust in her. I think we all have our stories of Sally, many of them very funny. We will all miss her for so much more than words can ever say. On the bottom of Sally and Fred’s tombstone the words are simple and direct ; SCIENCE , SAILING, COMMUNITY,  FAMILY. Thank you Sally.

Recalled by Penny Hill (posted here by permission)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some of Sally's publications & scientific activities

Studies on Two Skates: Raja Erinacea Mitchell Raja Eglanteria Bosc.

RICHARDS, SARAH W. ET AL. New Haven:: Peabody Museum of Natural History,, 1963. 8vo, pp. 97,

The Demersal Fish Population of Long Island Sound. 

RICHARDS, SARAH W, New Haven:: Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale Univ.,, 1963 

Distribution and Ecology of Fishes of the Mystic River Estuary, Connecticut
William G. Pearcy, Sarah W. Richards
doi: 10.2307/1931980

She was involved in the Falkener's Island Tern project. You can see Dr. Jeffrey Spendlow's  page. Another page on the Roseate Tern Project at Falkner's

Aspects of the Biology of Ammodytes americanus from the St. Lawrence River to Chesapeake Bay, 1972-75, Including a Comparison of the Long Island Sound Postlarvae with Ammodytes dubius
(Pdf - 0.9 MB)

Sarah W. Richards
Little Harbor Laboratory, Inc.
69 Andrews Road, Guilford, Connecticut, USA 06437

Source - Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science, Volume 3(2): 93-104



And then searching in Google....
  1. Comparison of spawning seasons, age, growth rates, and food of two ...

    by SW Richards - 1979 - Cited by 10 - Related articles
    SARAH W. RICHARDS. JACK M. MANN ~. JOSEPH A. WALKER 2. Little Harbor Laboratory. 69 Andrews Road. Guilford, Connecticut 06437 ...
  2. American Society of Limnology and Oceanography

    RICHARDS, NORMAN J., AND SARAH W. RICHARDS: Effect of decalcification procedures on the dry weights of benthic invertebrates. 469-471 ... - Cached
  3. Issue 2 (April) - ESA Online Journals - Journal - Table of Contents

    Distribution and Ecology of Fishes of the Mystic River Estuary, Connecticut. William G. Pearcy, Sarah W. Richards Abstractxml, full access ... › Ecology
  4. Comparison of Spawning Seasons, Age, Growth Rates, and Food of Two ...

    by SW Richards - 1979 - Cited by 10 - Related articles
    Growth Rates, and Food of Two Sympatric. Species of Searobins, Prionotus carolinus and Prionotus evolans, from Long Island. Sound. SARAH W. RICHARDS ...
  5. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society

    Sarah W. Richards; A. Marshall McBean. Pages 218 – 226. Full Text PDF | Abstract · Request Permissions | Related Articles · buy now buy now ...
  6. CFE 's Board of Directors

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    Sarah W. Richards. Katharine H. Robinson, Esq. Frank I-lanley Santoro, Esq. Denise Schlener. Barbara Surwilo, Ph.D. Presidents Council. Sandra Boynton ...
  7. A Bibliography of Publications Relating to Water Resources in ...

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
    by WC Kennard - Cited by 1 - Related articles
    Jun 1, 1970 ... W.G. and Sarah W. Richards. 1962. Distribution and Ecology of Fishes in the Mystic River Estuary, Connecticut. Ecology 43(2): 248-259. ...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Falkner Island Tern Project & Little Harbor Lab

I heard about Sally's death last week via Helen Hays, and am deeply saddened by the loss.  Sally was a major supporter of the Falkner Island Tern Project conservation/research work, allowing me to run things out of Little Harbor Lab for several years (starting in 1981 when I took over as the sole Director of the FITP) before I was able to make it part of my official work with the USFWS in the mid 1980s.  Even after I stopped working on the FITP in 2004 and moved my fieldwork operations to Massachusetts, I continued to stop in every spring on my way north to check in and chat with Sally.  I owe Sally - and Fred - an enormous debt of gratitude for all they did for me; I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Sally's encouragement and support.

Jeff Spendelow


SWR at Fred's daughter Sally's wedding 1979
As Fred’s children, my sister Sarah and I came to be connected to Sal at a very young age. My earliest memories of her are not very clear, but I remember her then, as I do today, as a very strong woman - smart, widely-read, interested in conversations with lots of content, and a bit scary to a small child shaken by the mystery around the disappearance of her father from her daily life.

As children and on through high school, we visited Dad and Sal twice a year - once in the winter, usually for a ski trip, and once in the summer, often for a sailing trip, or, if not that, then some vigorous work clearing brushy property in Stony Creek. Sal accepted us fully and took an interest in our lives, mostly helping us to see opportunities in the big world that we might not have found otherwise. I believe she had a clear idea of what choices she’d like to see us make, but she never imposed that on us, opting instead to try to guide rather than force. I came to appreciate her wide network of colleagues, students, neighborhood kids, birders, and others who also admired her strength of character and intellect and thrived in the lively milieu that was Little Harbor Lab in those days. I realized only years later that I also longed for, and did not find, a nurturing, warm person who could help with developing my emotional intelligence as well as those other essential skills.

As Sal aged, and came to suffer increasingly from dementia, I felt a great tenderness toward her. I wanted to hold on to a memory of her in the fullness of her entire life cycle, and also clearly remember what an amazing force she was earlier in her life. During her final few hours, we surrounded her bed, in the room in her home that she had planned as a sanctuary for aging relatives, and supported her transition from life to death. What a gift she offered us, allowing us to be there. Sal was unfailingly generous to the end; she asked only that we see beneath her sometimes stern shell and not let that fill us with self-doubt, but instead to trust in our own power.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Board Hekla

Sally with most of what she loved: the waters of Canada, her boat, her binoculars, her husband, and two members of her extended Wheatland family. She was known for her lifelong love of birding and sailing. We hope her nephews and others will chime in with stories on board Hekla.

Fred and Sal sailed well into their 70's and early 80's. It was common to see people on shore shake their heads in wonder at the two of them as they headed out on their beloved Hekla.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Sally Out"

Sarah (Sally) Wheatland Richards, marine biologist and long time resident of Guilford and wherever her sailboat happened to be moored, died at home on Sunday, April 3rd surrounded by her family. She was 85.

Sally, born in Boston, MA in 1925, was the second of four children of Stephen and Dorothy Wheatland. Sally earned a B.S. from Vassar College in 1946 and a Masters in Zoology from Stanford University in 1948. She practiced marine biology for the next 50 years focusing on estuarine fish, shellfish and birds, eventually running the locally renowned "Little Harbor Lab" out of her Guilford home.

She devoted much of her time to local and regional conservation efforts, including the Guilford Land Conservation Trust of which she was a founding member, the Guilford Shellfish Commission, Faulkner’s Island Light Brigade, the U.S.Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Nature Conservancy. From an early age she was a passionate supporter of the Democratic party and its candidates.

Sally and her husband, the late Frederic M. Richards, whom she met while both worked at Yale University in the 1950's, were avid sailors, spending many summers in the high latitudes of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on their boat, Hekla. The couple also crossed the Atlantic via Iceland under sail and were life time members of the Cruising Club of America.

She was preceded in death by her brother, Richard Wheatland, II of Boston, MA and leaves her sisters Mary Schley, of Columbus, GA, and Alice Wellman, of Bangor, ME, her son George H. Richards, of Fairfield, CT, two step-daughters Sarah O. Richards, of Coupeville, WA, and Ruth Richards, of Cabot, VT, three grandchildren, one step-grandson, and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 2 pm on Tuesday, April 26th at the First Congregational Church of Guilford. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to the Guilford Land Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 200, Guilford, CT 06437, Faulkner's Island Light Brigade, P.O. Box 444, Guilford, Connecticut 06437, (203) 453-8400, or the CT Challenge, P.O. Box 566, Southport, CT 06890. In her memorable words that many friends and family heard on their message machines, "Sally Out".