J.R. Richards, former Santa Barbara High Principal

Santa Barbara High School’s colors were green, gold and black this week, as the Dons mourned the death of former principal J.R. Richards, who died unexpectedly on Saturday. He was 63 years old.

Affectionately known around town as “J.R.,” Richards was the only graduate of Santa Barbara High to serve as the school’s principal. He was a mathematics teacher in the Santa Barbara High School District for 25 years, becoming assistant principal at Santa Barbara High School in 1993 and serving as principal from 1995 until the summer of 2003.

“He was the most connected person I think I’ve ever met. Everybody he ever dealt with walked away feeling like he totally cares about him. He established a loyalty in people that came from his own loyalty to them. He made you feel like you were really worth something,” said Peter van Duinwyk, a colleague for 30 years, who retired from Santa Barbara High with Richards in 2003. “He got kids — and teachers — to put out that extra five percent that made all the difference in the world. …Whether on the playing field or state test taking, it’s all related.”

“He had a great sense of humor and was a good teacher,” said Santa Barbara High Teacher Bruce Lofthus, who also taught with Richards at Dos Pueblos High School. He was one of the people responsible for getting me back into teaching. “Just one of those very enthusiastic people. You knew that he was interested in young people and it showed,” said Lofthus, noting that Richards also taught math to his two daughters. “They thought he was great.”

“It is hard for me to think about Santa Barbara High School without thinking about J.R. and his dedication to the staff, students, and school community,” said Superintendent Deborah Flores.

“The more said about him, the better,” said van Duinwyk. “He’s such a community jewel, we want to talk about him as much as possible so that others can follow. … As an administrator, I’d go up and ask him questions. His answer always was, ‘if its good for kids, lets start there.’ And it wasn’t necessarily the thing that everybody approved of. That was his standard.”

Richards’ high standards have lived on at Santa Barbara High. “He instilled so much in the kids and the staff,” said Patty Diaz, his longtime secretary. “The staff knows to put the kids first.”

“He had a lot of stuff done to him that was not equitable, not fair. But he never had a bad word to say about anyone. It was a pure joy to have him around for the additional year that we got him. And that he was able to go out on his own terms,” said Diaz.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on February 24, 2005.