Friends and fellow long time supporters of the land trust Carolie Evans and Paul Proulx reflect on the life of Sarah (Sally) Richards who passed away on April 3rd, 2011. Together with her late husband Fred, she was a tireless supporter of conservation and land preservation projects in and around Guilford.
The Guilford Land Conservation Trust wishes to recognize the passing of Sarah (Sally) Richards on April 3, 2011. Sally was an extraordinary individual. A wonderful friend, a hard worker, educated, thoughtful and always there when you needed her.
I first met Sally in the 60’s. She was leading a walk to discuss salt marshes describing how they function and their importance. She was standing in her boots in the marsh, her son George who at the most was probably 2 or 3, was standing the marsh behind her. Sally was scooping up mud, looking for crabs, etc. All of a sudden, those gathered listening to the lecture, realized George was slowing sinking. Without missing a beat, Sally turned, picked up George and moved him to higher ground and went on with her talk. What an amazing presence of mind.
In 1965 Sally was part of the group that organized the Guilford Land Conservation Trust (GLCT). The early objective of GLCT was to acquire tidal wetlands. As the government put protections on the tidal wetlands, the Trust sought protection for inland wetlands. Today, the GLCT works on protecting and managing the most critical lands in Guilford
Sally was trained as a marine biologist and had set up the Little Harbor Lab. in her house. I remember that at one point she was growing mussels on long lines in Little Harbor. I seem to remember that the project was somewhat successful.
My next close contact with Sally was in 1974. My three children were older and I could begin to get active in activities other than child raising or housekeeping, etc. I saw an article in the Shore Line Times that invited residents to get involved in a study of New Haven Water Company lands. The N.H. Water Co. owned over three thousand acres in Guilford all north of Rt. 80. The Company wished to sell 2900 acres in order to raise capital for expansion of its filtration and distribution systems. Sally Richards was the Chair of this study. As a member of the Study Committee, the committee’s first obligation was to walk the Water Co. land – all of it. Sally, Otto Schaefer, the Land Manager of the N.H. Water Co., and committee members walked. Sally wrote a detailed report entitled, New Haven Water Company in Guilford: History, Holdings and Dissolution 1975. I was very impressed by Sally, her depth of knowledge, her energy and drive. Nothing was impossible. The recommendation of the Committee was that the State, the Region and/or the Town should purchase at least 1875 acres.
Sally’s good works continued to the end of her life. She served on the Board of Directors of the CT Chapter of The Nature Conservancy as science advisor. Land protection was never far from her thoughts. She was also instrumental in protecting forest land in Maine. She was active in the Faulkner’s Light Brigade, serving as chair of the Lighthouse Preservation Committee. Sally and her husband Fred Richards were also very active in the Westwoods Committee, a committee of the GLCT. Fred was the first person who laid out trails using a topographical map as the base map. After the woolly adelgid killed 100’s of hemlocks in Westwoods, I can remember Sally conscripting me to plant a bucket of spruce saplings on the property. Those tiny saplings thrived; I can still identify those that I planted. Sally lives on.
In 1994 my then 10 year old son Zachary approached me with a suggestion to join the Westwoods Trails Committee (WTC). He wanted to make a trail on our property along the West River. As a family we had been avid hikers of Westwoods and Zachary thought that we should learn from the best. I thought that this was a great idea as it was time for me to give back to Westwoods for all the wonderful times that we spent there. On attending our first meeting I felt like Dorothy leaving her Kansas house to enter the world of Oz. Everyone at the meeting seemed larger than life and this amazing committee was lead by Fred Richards the then Chairman and Sally Richards the then GLCT board representative on the committee. The purpose, dedication and passion that the WTC operated under were immediately evident. On the first work party that we attended, Zachary and I dug a fifteen-foot ditch across the trail and installed a section of PVC pipe to help drain a wet area under the trail to the railroad tracks. The theme of this work party was addressing the wet areas on the lower section of the White Circle trail. There was a beehive of activity at this work party, carting gravel that had magically appeared at the Sam Hill Road entrance to fill in wet spots on the trail and the parking lot, the construction of water bars to direct water off of the trail and the digging of the ditch and installation of the PCV pipe. Every time that Zachary and I checked to see if we had dug the ditch deep enough, we were told that we had to go deeper. I never worked so hard in my life and we were finally able to gain “parental” approval for our work. The pipe was installed and it is still functioning today and this project has completely eliminated the habitual water problem on the trail. As a result of this effort, I felt a part of this wonderful committee.
Each September the WTC marches in the Guilford Parade. That first year I remember asking another member if they were planning to march. The response that I received was “Absolutely, I would not miss the opportunity to march along side the likes of Fred and Sally Richards”. While I could understand the sentiment, I had not yet fully observed the full spectrum of Fred and Sally’s impact. Sally was a trained Marine Biologist and was involved in every regional conservation effort. She was a member of WTC, GLCT, Guilford Shellfish Commission, Faulkner’s Island Light Brigade, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Nature Conservancy. She ran the renowned “Little Harbor Lab” out of their Guilford home. Fred was a world renowned Molecular Biologist at Yale University. In their spare time they sailed their boat in the higher latitudes of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. What a full and amazing life they led.
One night after I had been a member of the committee for a few years, my wife and I attended a dinner party at their house with one other couple. This was the first time that my wife had meet Sally and Fred. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening with great food and fascinating discussions. The first thing that my wife said to me when we got into the car was “Now I understand why you like the WTC so much”.
Fred was the scientist and engineer. He loved to create engineering projects in Westwoods. You would see the twinkle in his eyes, the little smile and a curling of the tongue when he was immersed in a project. The most indelible memory of Fred that remains with me was on probably the last work party that he participated in. His knees were shot but he insisted on accompanying the chain saw brigade to remove a particular dangerously positioned dead hemlock. Fred had constructed a six-foot slingshot that could be used to rope a huge tree and help guide it safely to the ground after felling it with the chain saw. We had about a mile walk to get to the dead hemlock and Fred fell three times on the way. Each time he got up more determined than ever to complete the project. In the end, it worked like a charm. Was there ever a doubt with Fred at the helm?
Sally was the stoic one. Straight back, chin always up. On one work party we installed a complicated bridge in Stony Creek Preserve where we had to carry a lot of lumber. I was paired with Sally and we were carrying 10-foot sections of 8”x 8” pressure treated lumber. This gets heavy very quickly. Sally and I were carrying the lumber over our shoulders. She was walking with the straight back and head held high. I am glad that I was in the rear so she couldn’t see how I was buckling under the weight. She had 30 years on me.
Sally and Fred were my mentors on the WTC. They passed the baton of the committee to me and provided support up to the end. I learned a lot about everything from them. They were infectious and inspiring to be around. Sally had a habit of saying “Sally Out” to terminate a conversation. Well, we have reached “Fred and Sally Out” but not in spirit. Their influence will be felt for many years to come.
– Paul Proulx
Details on some of Sally’s publications and scientific activities can be found here.