Memorial for longtime WFLA news voice Don Richards set for June 28
I was out of town on June 6, when longtime WFLA-AM newsman Don Richards passed away, and -- though I didn't know it at the time -- the woman who pens our Epilogue obituary features was also out of the office. So the St. Petersburg Times didn't print a story about Don's passing when it happened.
Fortunately, Don's widow Virginia "Ginger" Breitkreutz (Don was smart enough to know a last name like Breitkreutz wasn't going to roll off any broadcaster's tongue, so he stuck with his first and middle name on air) was understanding and passed along information on a public memorial planned for her husband later this month.
The date will be June 28, at 2 p.m. inside Good Samaritan Church, 6085 Park Blvd., St. Petersburg. Sign a guestbook for Don here.
It's been a tough time for the family; Richards died less than 24 hours after the birth of his first grandchild, Meghan Elaine Dawn Masyada. "Once he knew she arrived safely, he felt free to go," said Ginger, who drove to Gainesville for the birth on June 5 and then drove back to St. Petersburg the very next day to say goodbye to her husband of nearly 40 years.
Richards died June 6 at age 65 after months of fighting lung cancer. The illness forced him to stop working as news director at WFLA radio in November, where he had labored for 20 years chasing stories. His biggest claim to fame may have been interviewing Hank Earl Carr, the rampaging murderer who spoke to Richards for six minutes on air when he took a hostage in a Hernando County gas station after killing his girlfriend's son and three police officers.
But Richards was also the voice of WFLA newscasts and news breaks on other Clear Channel stations for many years. Raised in Connecticut, he got one of his first tastes of broadcasting serving in the Army in Korea as a radio and TV news anchor for the Armed forces Korea Network in the mid-60s. When he moved to Worcester, Mass. for his first professional radio job at WTAG-AM, Richards became attracted to the woman who took his order for telephone service, calling back several times saying he couldn't get the order quite right.
A few months later, Richards and that telephone operator, named Virginia, were engaged to be married.
After 13 years at WTAG, the better weather of Florida beckoned, and the Breitkreutz family headed south, with Richards taking a job at WPLP, the first talk radio station in the Tampa Bay area (also home at one time to local radio stars such as Bob Lassiter and Tedd Webb). By 1988, the station had changed hands and Richards moved on to WFLA-AM, where he worked for almost two more decades.
"It was his life and he loved it," said Ginger, recalling a time when a tornado touched down close to their home right after Richards took off to cover the impact of storms elsewhere in the county. "He made that clear from the beginning -- family, holidays, didn't matter -- work came first. It was very difficult for him to be away from it."
Contributions in Don's memory can be made to the American Cancer Society or the Good Samaritan Church.