Her story’s worth sharing
If there is one thing Dee Richards has learned in life, it’s that you can’t change the past.
Richards is the master of stepping out of a shed skin and recreating herself.
She moved to Steamboat Springs 54 years ago with four kids in tow and the life of a doctor’s wife stretched out before her.
“I had no idea how long we would stay in Steamboat,” she said. “At that time, you just followed your husband, and we moved a lot.”
As a doctor’s wife, she never planned to work. Her degree in art history from Oberlin College made her a good conversationalist at cocktail parties and hospital fund-raisers.
But when Richards’ marriage ended, she found herself raising five children on her own and knocking on doors in search of a paycheck.
She worked various office jobs in Steamboat until getting a phone call from the Steamboat Pilot’s then-publisher, Chuck Leckenby.
“I’d never been in a newspaper office before,” Richards said. “But he said I would do well because I knew everybody in town.”
It was the early 1960s, and the Steamboat Pilot had a small downtown office. Richards fit into her new role as if she was born for it. As she remains today, she had an opinion about everything and wasn’t afraid to share her thoughts in the bluntest of terms.
“The business people liked me one week and hated me the next,” she said.
It took her time to be taken seriously as a professional woman in a small town, she said, “but I had the best job of any woman in town, and I eventually earned people’s respect because I was honest.”
In three decades with the newspaper, she wrote about every corner and crack in Steamboat and began to explore the world with her writing. Through a group called the International Society of Newspaper Editors, she went on press trips to the Middle East, Africa and Central America.
The newspaper didn’t pay her travel expenses, but it continued to pay her salary while she traveled. The stories she found in those countries appeared on a Pilot’s section front weekly.
But even that didn’t last. In the early 1990s, the Steamboat Pilot changed ownership, and the paper Richards had known changed into an atmosphere in which was unhappy.
She shed the skin of a newspaper editor and stepped into a new identity as a world traveler.
In her early 70s, Richards went to Denver for an interview with the Peace Corps but was told she didn’t have any applicable skills.
Peace Corps representatives told her that if she got some teaching experience, they would reconsider.
Richards took their advice and got a job teaching English as a Second Language to Mexican sawmill workers in Walden.
Her tenacity caught the attention of the Peace Corps, and they offered her a job in Sri Lanka. Richards worked hard to learn the language of the people around her, but “not speaking the language puts a big screen in front of you. At my age, it was very difficult.”
But she stuck it out and returned to Steamboat with two more years of adventure stories to tell.
In the past 10 years, she has continued to travel, to Cuba, Peru and New Zealand, and she just returned from Iceland.
If there’s one thing she’s learned in life, she said, “You can always do things, no matter how old you are.”
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