The European history courses Jack Richards taught weren’t required for students at Phillips Academy in Andover, but classes quickly filled up.
“He had a contagious curiosity about the world,” said his daughter Catherine Richards Stockly of Cumberland, Maine. “Through reading, talking, and exploring, he was always gathering more knowledge.”
Offering more than an education to those around him, Mr. Richards inspired a passion for teaching. Four of his former students were so enthralled with history that they returned to Phillips Academy to teach alongside him. Most of his children are now educators, and all of them were involved with teaching or coaching at some point.
As his former student Tony Maranto wrote on the school’s website, Mr. Richards was “the ambassador for the satisfaction that comes from learning.”
Mr. Richards, who during 40 years at Phillips Academy also served as dean of students, head coach of the track team, and a dorm proctor, died of adenocarcinoma Oct. 5 in his Exeter, N.H., home. He was 81.
Mr. Richards was ‘the ambassador for the satisfaction that comes from learning.’
“One of the things that made Jack a hero was he was a superb teacher, a fabulous coach, and an excellent dorm master,” said Vic Henningsen, a former student of Mr. Richards who later taught alongside him. “He was a triple threat. He led the league.”
John Richards II grew up in an atmosphere of education. His father, Henry, taught classics and coached rowing at Groton School. The family lived on the Groton campus, and his father and his mother, Julia (Coolidge), were heavily involved in the school.
“It was very obvious that his father influenced him, for he followed in his footsteps, almost exactly,” his daughter Catherine said.
Mr. Richards attended high school at Groton when his father was teaching, and graduated in 1950. From there, he headed to Harvard to study history.
In college, Mr. Richards developed a love of history and was involved in ROTC. After graduating in 1954, he served in the Air Force for two years, rising to the rank of captain while stationed at a Texas base until 1956. He flew transport jets, and while he never saw action, his military service during the Cold War sparked an interest in its dynamics.
During his time in the Air Force, Mr. Richards met Wendy Cameron at a dock on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. After only six dates, Mr. Richards proposed. They married in 1955 and frequently vacationed at Squam Lake, their favorite spot.
After the Air Force, Mr. Richards began his teaching career at Phillips Academy. Beyond lecturing, he quickly became involved with nearly every aspect of the school.
Mr. Richards, who had been captain of the 1954 Harvard track team, began coaching winter and spring track at Phillips Academy in 1958. He knew how to inspire his athletes, and the team won several interscholastic championships under his leadership.
He also was a house counselor for 30 years and served as dean of students and dean of faculty.
“Virtually every moment of his day was committed to the school,” his daughter said, recalling that very few family dinners didn’t include a couple of her father’s students.
Catherine’s brother Chris of Watertown said many of their father’s students became “de facto family.”
In 1965, Mr. Richards was appointed to a committee that reviewed the school’s educational environment. The committee’s recommendations resulted in changes at Phillips Academy including allowing girls to attend and increased diversity efforts.
Mr. Richards was pleased with the results as the school drew students from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Soviet Union.
“At most high schools, kids are from one town or the immediate area,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1990. “Here they come from all over America, from all over the world. A typical high school will have some bright kids. Here they are all bright, the cream of the crop. That’s very exciting.”
The Cold War influenced the approach Mr. Richards took to teaching European history. Feeling a need to provide context for a situation that was unfolding daily, he taught Russian and Soviet history, and coauthored a book on the subject in the mid-1980s.
In 1985, he led a three-week trip with more than 60 faculty members to the Soviet Union to study that country’s culture and history.
“I found it such a wonderful educational experience that I did the same thing with a trip to China,” said Hale Sturgess, a teaching colleague at Phillips Academy. “As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Henningsen said that when he returned to teach at Phillips Academy, he would sit in on classes Mr. Richards taught, and was greatly impressed with his colleague’s engaging teaching style, which focused on the characters of history and the narrative around them.
“I would sit in and think, ‘Geez, I wish I could do that,’ ” Henningsen said.
He added that as a teacher, “I put the student at the center of the story, which is what Jack did. The narrative of history is perfect for provoking student thought.”
After Mr. Richards retired in 1997, he taught classes in retirement communities and cherished his time teaching his grandchildren.
“Dad never actively encouraged us to become teachers,” Chris said. “He was a guy who never regretted going to work. We observed this, and it was easy for us to fall into teaching. I certainly have no regrets.”
In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. Richards leaves another son, Tim of Pomfret, Conn.; another daughter, Laura of Sunapee, N.H.; and 13 grandchildren. Mr. Richards’s daughter Pam Cohan, who had lived in Burlington, Vt., died just five weeks before he did.
A memorial service for Mr. Richards will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 in the Cochran Chapel at Phillips Academy.
Since 1949, Mr. Richards worked with a camp in Bristol, N.H., now known as the Mayhew Program, which serves at-risk New Hampshire boys. Starting out as a counselor when he was 17, he became a longtime trustee for the organization. The staff quarters are named in honor of Mr. Richards, who was known among other contributions for recruiting Phillips Academy students to become counselors.
“Jack was the heart and soul of Mayhew,” Al Cantor, a trustee emeritus, wrote on the organization’s website. “Far more than a mere venerable link to the past, he was deeply involved with the program throughout his life.”
A serious outdoorsman, Mr. Richards also hiked every 4,000-foot peak in New Hampshire, skied, and became an avid kayaker once his knees weakened in old age.
“The last thing he did before he was diagnosed was go on a multiday kayak trip in Maine,” Sturgess said. “He had a love for the lakes and the hills. He was a true New Englander in that regard.”