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)