Better known as Jack, John Richards II, Instructor in History and Social Sciences from 1957 until 1997, passed away last Saturday at the age of 81.
Besides teaching history, Richards served as Cluster Dean, Dean of Students and Dean of Faculty. Sitting on the steering committee that recommended coeducation and founding the country’s first USA-USSR high school exchange program, according to Andover’s website, he sought to bring dynamic thinking and innovation to each of his campus roles.
Christopher Gurry ’66, Instructor in History and Social Science and one of Richards’s former students, called Richards a “model of the triple threat,” referring to his influence as a teacher, coach and house counselor. He recalled Richards’s unique ability to connect with students in his European history class.
“At that time we sat in rows. He constantly walked around the classroom, engaging with each individual but not in an intimidating way. He used the Socratic method, so everyone came to class prepared because you knew that you would be called on. He invited students to be their best,” said Gurry.
Richards served as a mentor and role model to many of his students, devoting time and effort to their success. His legacy as a teacher still remains on campus today, as four of Richards’s former students—Gurry, Vic Henningsen ’69, former Instructor in History, Edwin G. Quattlebaum ’60 III, former Instructor in History, and Derek Williams ’65, former Instructor in History—have since returned to teach at Andover all in his department.
“That is a testament to him as well as some of his colleagues, but Jack is the guy that I admired and looked up to. He epitomized all that was good about Andover,” said Gurry. “He was the kind of person that expected everybody to be prepared and ready. And when you were not you really felt as if you had let him down. He was always on top of his game, and when you weren’t, you said to yourself, ‘Wow, I missed an opportunity.’”
In his final weeks on campus, Richards shared with the department his vision of a new centennial multi-disciplinary course on World War I, highlighting events such as the Paris debut of Igor Stravinsky’s and Sergei Diaghilev’s 1913 ballet “The Rite of Spring” and the sinking of the Titanic, according to Christopher Shaw ’78, Chair and Instructor in History.
“Just before his retirement in 1997, Richards was eager to be involved with new faculty, sharing new ideas and planning new approaches to the work that he had done with brilliance for decades. I remember thinking then that such positive energy seemed all too rare at his age,” said Shaw. “To the very end of his career here, he set the standard for creativity, innovation and cutting-edge pedagogy.”
Richards had a particular passion for Russian history. While at Andover, teaching electives on both the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. He also co-authored a book that was published in the 1970s, according to Gurry. He passed on this enthusiasm to his students, including the son of Peter Drench, Instructor in History and Social Science.
“My son loved every minute of it and often shared some fun moments he’d enjoyed in that class. Thanks in part to his experience in Jack’s class and with Victor Svec [Instructor in Russian], he decided to major in Slavic Studies in college. Almost every time Jack and I conversed in the years that followed, he wanted to know how my son was doing,” said Drench.
“For the past several years, I’ve been teaching in his former classroom, and, as a reminder of his kindness, I’ve kept on one of the walls’ two framed posters, one of Faberge eggs and the other of a beautiful Russian church,” continued Drench.
A talented athlete, Richards served as the Captain of the Harvard track team. He later coached Andover Track, winning interscholastic championships in 1971 and 1972 and then five more from 1980 to 1984, said Gurry.
“He really ran the gamut of things, and I guess that we always thought that we were fortunate to keep him so long, because I always felt that he would be an outstanding headmaster at some school, even here,” said Gurry.