Nancy Richards, avid Mason volunteer, dies at age 98

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    Anne "Nancy" Richards STAFF FILE PHOTO BY TIM GOODWIN—

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    Anne "Nancy" Richards was an avid knitter, and was often seen with her latest project at various meetings. STAFF FILE PHOTO BY TIM GOODWIN—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/2/2022 1:58:05 PM
Modified: 5/2/2022 1:56:32 PM

Anne “Nancy” Richards, an active volunteer who served as a longtime Mason selectwoman, volunteer firefighter, School Board member and holder of the town’s Boston Post Cane, died April 8 at the age of 98.

At the time of her passing, she was a member of the Mason School Board and an active deacon at the Mason Congregational Church.

Richards was born in Boston in 1924, and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Tufts College in 1949 and Masters of Education from Boston University in 1959.

She joined the Army in 1945, serving for three years providing physical therapy. In 1948, after leaving the service, she joined the Army Reserves, where she met her husband Don. She retired from the Army in 1984, having achieved the rank of colonel.

Richards moved to Mason in 1974 with her husband, and within a few years she joined the Mason Volunteer Fire Department, an organization she would remain with for decades, only retiring at the end of 2020, at the age of 96.

But that was only the start of her service to Mason.

After her retirement from the West Roxbury Veterans Affairs Hospital and Physical Therapy, she became more involved in her town. She served from 1990 to 2000 on the Select Board, serving the last six years as the chair.

At the time of her passing, she was in her second term on the Mason School Board. Pre-pandemic, she was an active volunteer at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, and with the Mason Congregational Church.

Those who knew her say in those decades of volunteerism, she never lost a step.

“She took her role as a School Board member very seriously,” said Mason Elementary School Superintendent/Principal Kristen Kivela. “She did her homework and always came prepared. She didn’t often speak at meetings, but when she did, it was always insightful – particularly during the pandemic. Because she had lived through pandemics in her life.”

But Richards’ work with the school wasn’t only limited to her work as a board member, Kivela said. For years, Richards has been a regular face in the school hallways, volunteering as a reader for the grade-schoolers. It was work she relished.

Richards had dyslexia, Kivela said, a fact she never hid from the children.

“She would say to them, ‘I have to pre-read all of this, so I know what I’m reading to you. I have to work a little bit harder, but that’s OK,’” Kivela said.

Mason Library Director Judy Forty said Richards was an avid reader and a regular visitor to the library, where she loved nonfiction books best of all. In fact, only a week before her death, she visited the library and took out the book for the library’s monthly book club, which she was an active member of. Forty said when Richards was checking out the book, students from Mason Elementary School were visiting the library for reading time, and Richards made sure to assure them she was “slow but sure” in her reading.

Even well into her 90s, Richards never let age stand in her way, friends said. She was active in Mason Congregational Church, and up until her death was providing a ride to another parishioner every week. She also passed out programs at the door.

“She just never pulled back from her active life,” said Bettie Goen, a fellow church member. “She was just the busiest, and most-willing volunteer, always. It didn’t matter if it was spring or fall cleanup, or doing the gardens, she was there.”

Richards was a regular volunteer at the church’s community supper, and ran the dishwashing station.

Barbara Devore, another church member and community supper volunteer, recalled one time when there was a new family that had moved to town and was volunteering at the supper.

“I had recruited the husband to help Nancy. I told her, ‘You’ll probably get along, he was a firefighter in Maine.’ She said that was OK, but she hoped he didn’t dawdle in his work,” Devore said.

Fred Greenwood, a former Mason fire chief who served on the department for 34 years, said Richards could be meticulous in that way. Sometimes, particularly with children, she was “everyone’s grandmother,” Greenwood said, but sometimes, she was a force to be reckoned with.

“I saw her at some Select Board meetings, where she would take control, and become the colonel that she was,” Greenwood said. “But she was also just a nice lady.”

For example, Greenwood said, when Richards was a member of the Select Board, he was a member of the Highway Department, and Richards invited the whole department to her home during maple syrup season to have a lunch and visit her sap house during a boiling.

“People don’t do that anymore, but Nancy did,” Greenwood said. “When I came on the department, she took me by the hand and showed me a lot.”

And in her later years, still a member of the department but no longer actively going on calls, instead running the radio and helping in other ways, Greenwood said he relied on that mentor spirit and detailed eye.

“She was sharp, sharp, sharp. In her later years, she would say to me, ‘I can’t do anything.’ I’d say to her, ‘You’re doing exactly what I want,’” he said, which according to Greenwood meant taking the new recruits under her wing and helping them with doing truck checks – ensuring all the equipment was present and correct.

Jeff Partridge, Mason’s EMS captain, said in her last year on the department, at the age of 96, Richards lamented that she didn’t think she could get on the floor to give CPR during a refresher course.

“She just had incredible dedication,” Partridge said. “She never went through the motions. Everything she did was real.”

“If everyone in Mason volunteered 1% of the time she volunteered every year, we would have the best town in the state,” said Devore. “She was amazing.”

Richards was also active volunteering with local Scouting organizations, having once been an avid Girl Scout herself.

Goen said when she was leading a Scout troop when her daughters were younger, Richards came to give a talk and share stories with them – wearing her original Scout uniform, which still fit.

“She was just an amazing girl,” Goen said. “She was a friend to all.”

A celebration of life will be held for Richards at the Mason Congregational Church on Sunday, June 5, at 1:30 p., presided over by her friend Pastor Veronica Walsh Don.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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