Jeffrey H. Richards (1948-2011)


Messages from the SEA listserv upon hearing the sad news from Professor Long that Professor Jeffrey Richards had passed away on Monday, May 30, 2011.

By Thomas Long

May 31, 2011

SEA Members: It is with sorrow that I inform you of the death of Jeffrey Richards, professor of English at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA).

For the past year and half, Jeff had been treated for a brain tumor, which often entailed heroic therapies. About two weeks ago, Jeff and his wife Stephanie decided that it was time for him to enter hospice care.

A graduate of Yale (BA) and University of North Carolina (PhD), Jeff had varied scholarly interests, focusing on early American literature, especially drama.

Jeff and I met when he was chair of the English Department at ODU and I, chair of the department at Thomas Nelson Community College. I admired his collegiality, was inspired by his scholarship and teaching, and was often encouraged in my own career goals by his comradeship.


Thomas Lawrence Long, PhD
School of Nursing
University of Connecticut

By Kristina Bross


As is clear from the messages posted in tribute to Jeff, he was a model scholar and a friend to so many of us:  wide-ranging in his intellect, generous with his time, encouraging, warm, funny, and wise (though I’m sure he would laugh at the description).  As David reminds us so eloquently, he understood the value of  service, giving of himself to be sure that the machinery of our profession chugged along (and encouraging others to do the same), thereby ensuring that opportunities persist to present, to publish, to grow in knowledge and understanding.  But of course, despite such drains on his time, he was a superb writer, forever changing our imagination of early American theater and performance.

Kris Bross

P.S.  Ned, as I was composing this, your message came through the list:  “bunched up his face into a smile.”  That’s it, exactly.

Kristina Bross
Purdue University


By Susan Castillo

So very sorry to hear of Jeff’s death.  His work on Early American drama was foundational, and I so admired his scholarly rigour, kindness, and collegiality.  He will be much missed.

Susan Castillo
King’s College London

By Michael Drexler

Jeff was a terrific mentor. He cared deeply about young scholars and avidly followed our development. He always had a smile and time to share. I miss him dearly. May we all find his graciousness in the face of life’s profound difficulties.  What a tremendous loss.

Michael J. Drexler
Bucknell University

By Joseph Fichtelberg

I, too am saddened by the news of Jeff’s death.  Like many others, I benefited from his tact, his charm, his wisdom, and his generosity.  I was equally touched by his nobility.  Jeff lived with his illness for some time, and we talked and corresponded as he attempted one therapy after another.  I could tell what a toll the struggle was taking on his mind and spirit, but he never once complained.  His e-mails, during this period, made only passing references to his illness.  Most often he asked about me, offering advice and sympathy (we were both department chairs) even near the end.  That was the true measure of the man.

Joe Fichtelberg
Hofstra University

By Rosemary F. Guruswamy

Although everyone before me has said everything I would say about Jeff Richards, I wanted to add my voice to remembering him.  We would always spend time together at every conference, and yes, he was humble, generous, incredibly intelligent, and just a lot of fun.  Like all of you, I will miss him.


Rosemary F. Guruswamy
Radford University

By Sharon Harris

Jeff’s passing is indeed a loss.  I had the pleasure of working with him on a scholarly edition of Mercy Otis Warren’s letters.  Erudite, witty, passionate about his work, and intellectually engaged, Jeff was a colleague of the first order.  His work in early American drama will influence generations, but most of all, for those of us who knew him, his warmth and generosity as a scholar and human being will be greatly missed.


Sharon M. Harris
University of Connecticut

By Susan Imbarrato

Jeff was such an inspiration. His support of others, his dedication to scholarship, his attention to community, and the way he listened with such care allowing for all the details and then finding the center of the issue so perfectly was astonishing. We all miss him so much. His kindness and light heartedness will forever be an example and an inspiration. Our gratitude for his graciousness and generosity is immense.


Susan Imbarrato
Minnesota State University Moorhead

By Mark Kamrath

Just before the SEA conference this past spring, Jeff let me know that he would not be attending or able to enjoy the usual pint of ale.
In what would be his final remarks to me, he said, “Please say hi to my chums who still remember and know that i will be thinking of the SEA gang next week.”
We remember. . . . and I hope that everyone who knew Jeff finds solace in his words.

He was always supportive–and will be missed.

Mark Kamrath
University of Central Florida

By Thomas W. Krise

We all felt Jeff’s absence at SEA in Philadelphia this past March, and we were reminded how important he’s been to the growth and success of the SEA.  Jeff ran our second stand-alone SEA conference, which set the stage for all the future ones.  He was always a wonderful addition to any committee or team, and he had a delightful way of warning or advising that felt supportive instead of critical.  His influence will live on in all of us. –Tom

Thomas W. Krise
University of the Pacific

By Dennis Moore

Dear colleagues,
What a loss.

Jeff’s wife Stephanie has asked that I share the accompanying obituary with his friends; what a list that would be!  You’ll note that the text ends with two suggestions for donations in lieu of flowers. (please see below)

Ned Watts’ note a short while ago mentions our having lost Frank Shuffelton last year.  These moments of loss remind me that our overlapping circles of early American literary scholars and historians comprise a family, one in which we’ve grown to know and love some dear uncle figures like Frank as well as some older-brother figures like Jeff.  Like so many of us, I have a string of vivid memories that center around Jeff, many involving conversations at conferences and many of those involving food and drink, all involving the twinkle in the eye that Jeff, like Frank, always brought along.  Jeff’s scholarship will indeed live on, as will the encouragement that he, like Frank, shared so openly with our younger colleagues.

It’s heartening to see how quickly our SEA officers have moved to add Jeff to our website’s In Memoriam page.


Dennis Moore
Florida State University

By Carla Mulford


I will sorely miss the genial smile and warm laugh of Jeffrey Richards, the stable presence he supplied at our conference meetings, the generosity of spirit he always shared, the patience with which he bore his last illness and shared a few — just a very few — of his thoughts about life.

If Jeff were in the audience when one gave a talk, one knew a penetrating question would arise from him.  If Jeff were giving a talk himself, one could count on learning a lot more than usual from a conference paper.

Jeff was serious, sensible, compassionate, a witty storyteller, a wonderfully candid truthteller.

At a memorable lunch with Frank Shuffelton and Jeff not too too very long ago, we found ourselves talking about our work. Jeff asked when I thought I’d finish my book on Benjamin Franklin. I said I didn’t know for sure. He said, quite plainly and honestly, “Just finish it, Carla.” So honest and forthright. I’m finishing that book this summer, and I have not forgotten his frank and cordial advice.

I have learned from one of his colleagues that a memorial service for Jeff will be held on Sunday June 5th at 4:00 p.m. at Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, 6901 Newport Avenue, Norfolk 23505. The service will be followed by a reception.

He leaves behind a loving wife, Stephanie Sugioka and their children Sarah and Aaron.

Yours in sadness,

Carla Mulford
English, Penn State

By Heather Nathans

I first met Jeff while I was still a graduate student and soon learned to treasure his warmth and encouragement. I still remember the day when I found out he had footnoted me on something! It felt as though I had truly arrived in the field of early American theatre. Although I don’t know that he ever did it consciously, Jeff was a wonderful mentor and role model. He led by his own generous and kind example. I will miss him tremendously.

Heather Nathans
University of Maryland, College Park

By Ross Pudaloff

This is sad news indeed.  Jeff’s work was exemplary (in so many ways) and I learned a great deal from it and from him.  But I did have the pleasure of presenting a paper on the panel he organized for the joint meeting of SEA and OIEAHC in 2007.  He was generous and perceptive in his comments on the topic and the papers presented.  So I too will miss him.

Ross Pudaloff
Wayne State University

By Peter Reed

It’s a privilege, albeit in such sad circumstances, to add my small voice to this chorus of people remembering Jeff.  I am forever grateful for his friendship, his mentorship, and his collegiality.  I wish I had known him longer, but even in the short time in which our work and ideas brought our paths together, his openness and generosity was incredibly important to me.  I’m thankful for him, and I’ll miss his presence as much as anyone.


Peter P. Reed
University of Mississippi

By David Shields

Jeffrey Richards was the least self-centered senior academic I knew.  He readily gave himself to duties that most of his colleagues deemed onerous, serving in a host of administrative posts at Old Dominion to insure that the work of his Department got done. He performed with good grace the most tedious and necessary tasks, fully conscious of the tax on his mortal time, but mindful that the essence of maturity is doing that which must be done. He hosted the 2nd Society of Early Americanists biennial conference. For a witty man, he was singularly free of malice.  For a scholar of the theater, a person notably free of vanity.  Trained to be scrupulously empirical in research, he nonetheless suffered none of the myopia that archival investigation sometimes causes; he read and employed theory, and conceived theater in terms of a transatlantic theatrum mundi as well as performance by scripted players on stages.  Audience interested him as much as player or playwright. He viewed performance as transactional.  While Richards was widely known for his theater histories, other subjects called to him as well.  He was fascinated with the Reformed Christian theology of stewardship and its influence on nascent environmental consciousness.  He was always imagining communities, locales, social spaces.  He reconstructed the material and social worlds of early Dorechester, SC, a New England town transplanted into the south at the end of the 17th century.  He was fascinated with the West Indian islands visited by traveling theater companies, and speculated on the nature of plantation performances of plays.  His curiosity made him an ideal referee for articles with subjects that did not conform to the usual categories.  He was the longest serving member of EAL’s board ever. By rights he should have occupied a professorial chair at an R 1 university these last years, but the designs of providence and the trajectories of careers can sometimes be unaccountable.  His reward during his years at ODU has been that institution’s trust and respect, the universal regard, indeed love, of early Americanists everywhere, the respect of the community of performance studies practitioners and theater historians, and the influence of his books—Theater Enough (1991), Mercy Otis Warren (with Sharon Harris, 1995), and Drama, Theatre, and Identity in the American New Republic (2005) upon our understanding.  I hope his avuncular, amiable spirit will haunt our hearts whenever we meet in the future.

David Shields
University of South Carolina

By Laura Stevens

Dear SEA colleagues,

I spoke today with Dana Heller, the chair of English at ODU, and she kindly forwarded to me the announcement she sent out. I thought you might appreciate seeing it, so I’ve pasted it into this message after my note. She also said that she would be glad to pass on to us any additional information she receives about obituaries, memorials, and so forth.

Susan Imbarrato will be setting up a page on our web site In Memoriam section and will let us know when it is available. We will of course be devoting some time to remember Jeff at a future conference. Details to follow.

I had the honor of getting to know Jeff Richards partly through two students we have shared — that is, students who have come to my university’s doctoral program after earning their masters’ degrees under Jeff’s direction. I think we show a particular side of ourselves through our students beyond what shows through in our scholarship, and that side of Jeff was caring, scrupulous, ethical, and passionate about his work. I feel privileged to have been able to know him and am grateful for the long-lasting impact he has had on our field. Like so many of us, I will miss him and wish he were still here to offer his knowledge, kindness, and good sense. He’s left us far too soon.

Laura Stevens
SEA Exec. Coordinator
University of Tulsa
From Dana Heller:

Sadly I must inform you that our beloved friend and colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Richards, passed away peacefully in the early hours of Monday, May 30th with his family and friends surrounding him.

Eminent Professor of American literature, respected Chair of the department, a cherished teacher and mentor, and a noble, compassionate man, Jeff will be sorely missed.  The loss to our department–and to the college and university–is incalculable and will take some time to absorb.  At this time, above all, our thoughts and hearts are with Jeff’s wife, Stephanie Sugioka and their children, Sarah and Aaron.

A Memorial Service for Jeff will be held on Sunday June 5th at 4:00 p.m. at Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, 6901 Newport Avenue, Norfolk 23505.  The service will be followed by a reception.

Dana Heller
Professor and Chair
Department of English
Old Dominion University

By Edward Watts

Through a clerical mishap, I was informed that Jeff was one of my external reviewers when I was up for tenure. When I asked him about it, he just bunched up his face into his smile and said I owed him a beer. I paid up, but owed him far more. Jeff was a model of generosity and collegiality. Those of us at mid-career now should model ourselves on his (and Frank Shuffelton’s while I’m at it) spirit of open friendship and outstanding scholarship to bring our younger colleagues into the fold.


Edward Watts
Michigan State University

By Daniel Williams

Jeff Richards was a genuinely kind, generous, and caring colleague.  When I was first diagnosed with cancer, Jeff was one of the first people to call and email to ask how I was doing.  In the half dozen years since, whenever we met at conferences or corresponded, he never failed to ask me about how I was doing.  I was deeply touched by his sincere concern.  Everyone will always ask, “How are you?”  But Jeff was one of those rare people who really cared to listen to your answer.

Jeff was a particularly perceptive and productive scholar, and his work in early American drama was truly groundbreaking, helping to open up this most interesting area of study.  He was always working on something, and always thinking, and his knowledge of early American print culture was extensive.  Whenever I had a questions related to theaters, actors, plays, and playwrights, I would email Jeff, and he would always respond quickly with an answer.  I am sure he did the same with a hundred or more other people seeking his help.

Jeff was a good friend to us all, always helpful, thoughtful, compassionate, and considerate.  No matter the context or discussion, he always took the time to make a personal connection and offer his assistance, and he was always gracious and unpretentious in helping others.
All of us who knew Jeff will miss him.  And there are many of us.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams
Texas Christian University



From Old Dominion University



Jeffrey Hamilton Richards passed away on Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, at age 62 after a hard-fought battle with brain cancer.

He was born on December 4, 1948, in Libertyville, Illinois, to Fenton Omar and Betty Quantz Richards, both deceased.  He received his B.A. from Yale University and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  An Eminent Professor of American Literature at Old Dominion University, he was a member of the English Department faculty for 19 years, serving two terms as department chair.  His many published books and articles contributed substantially to the scholarship in his field.  He was a loving brother, husband, and father, and a beloved mentor to both students and faculty at Old Dominion.  A gentle, noble, and compassionate man, he treated the people and the world around him with deep care and respect; he valued justice and deplored pettiness.  He loved spending time out of doors gardening and hiking.  He strove to live a simple life, devoting his time to what was most important to him—his family, his teaching, and his writing.

He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Stephanie Kay Sugioka; his two children, Aaron Nicholas and Sarah Grace Richards; and his three sisters—Suzanne Richards Uczen, Sally Ann Anderson, and Polly Ann Rotunda—and their families.

A memorial service will be held to honor his life at Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, 6901 Newport Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia, 23505, on Sunday, June 5, at 4:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Royster Church or to the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University ( .

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