Professor John F. Richards, of Durham and Greenland, New Hampshire, died peacefully at his Durham home on August 23 after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 68.
Born in Exeter, N.H., on November 3, 1938, to Frank F. Richards and Ella Higgins Richards, John was the oldest of three children. Because of the financial support and encouragement of his uncles, especially Lauris Richards and Don Richards, John was able to attend the University of New Hampshire where he graduated valedictorian of his class in 1961. The same day, fresh from his speech at commencement, he married his high school sweetheart, Ann Berry.
John always maintained that Ann joined the staff of the high school newspaper in an effort to meet him. After Ann finished her own bachelor's degree at UNH, the two moved to the West Coast where John pursued a doctorate in history at the University of California at Berkeley. John and Ann's first child, Jennifer, was born in California. John was hired by the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1968. Soon after moving to Madison, Ann and John's second child, Lauris Benjamin, was born. In 1977, John was hired by Duke University and moved his family to Durham. After 30 years of teaching at Duke, John was to retire this year at the end of August.
Colleagues, students and friends will remember professor Richards as a man with a wide range of intellectual interests. In a productive career spanning four decades, John contributed to the scholarship of Mughal India, South Asian economic history, comparative world history, ecology and deforestation in South Asia, world environmental history and opium production and trade in the British Empire.
His publications are too many to list here, but a few notable books are: 'Mughal Administration in Golconda' (1975); 'The Mughal Empire' (1993); 'The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World' (2003); 'The New Cambridge History of India' (series associate editor); and numerous journal articles, conference papers and edited volumes. John was a pioneer in the study of non-traditional areas of history at Duke University and helped opened doors to future scholars.
In 2003, John helped found the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies, a non-profit organization that supports research in the history and culture of Afghanistan and promotes scholarly ties between the United States and Afghanistan.
John's proudest achievements, however, were related to his family. He encouraged his children to pursue their dreams, better their chances with education and excel at whatever their chosen vocations may be. His marriage to Ann was a source of strength for him and it became the foundation of his work to maintain a close and loving family.
John believed that all people deserved the opportunities that he received and that education was a way to equalize the classes. He treated everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their station in life. John's gracious manner of putting people at ease, his sense of humor and his love of a good intellectual argument, will be missed by all who knew him.
John is survived by his wife of 46 years, Ann L. Richards; his daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and James McGowan of Hillsborough; his grandson, John McGowan; his son and daughter-in-law, L. Benjamin and Sarah Richards of Georgia, Vermont; his brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Barbara Richards of Sunapee, New Hampshire; his sister and her partner, Emily Richards and Janis Chaillou of Westminster, Vermont; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held September 14 at 12:30 p.m. at Duke University Chapel in Durham. Another memorial service will be held in Greenland, N.H., at a later date. Donations may be made to the Duke University International Studies Center Lecture in Comparative World History (919) 684-2765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arrangements are by the Cremation Society of the Carolinas. Click here for online condolences.