After Don Richards discovered his severe back pains were caused by cancer which had traveled from his lungs to his back, the longtime voice of WFLA-AM 970 radio news had one pressing goal: surviving to see his first grandchild born.
On June 5, he achieved that aim, informed by family that Meghan Elaine Dawn Masyada was born healthy in Gainesville to his daughter, Susan Masyada. By 4:30 the next morning, Mr. Richards' wife, Virginia, got a call to come back to St. Petersburg quickly. By afternoon, the local radio legend had passed away.
The newsman's family has announced a public memorial, scheduled for 2 p.m. June 28 at Good Samaritan Church, 6085 Park Blvd. in Pinellas Park.
And as accolades and condolences flood in, Mr. Richards' family is coping with tragedy on the heels of triumph.
"Once he knew (Meghan) arrived safely, he felt free to go," said Mr. Richards' wife of nearly 40 years, Virginia "Ginger" Breitkreutz, 63 (like many radio personalities, Mr. Richards used a simpler name professionally). "Oh my gosh, what a week we had."
Mr. Richards died 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 chased stories for 20 years.
His biggest claim to fame may have been his 1998 interview of Hank Earl Carr, who spoke to Mr. 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. Journalism ethicists criticized the station's decision to call Carr during the standoff, though Mr. Richards conducted a calm interview.
Mr. Richards was also the voice of WFLA newscasts. In a time of media consolidating and downsizing, he managed the rare feat of holding the same job at the same station for two decades.
"He was the consummate professional," said Gabe Hobbs, operations manager at WFLA and a senior vice president at station owner Clear Channel Radio. "Don was the one constant we had in this station."
Raised in Connecticut, Mr. Richards got an early taste of broadcasting in Korea while serving in the Army. He worked as a radio and TV news anchor for the Armed Forces Korea Network in the mid 1960s. When he moved to Worcester, Mass., for his first commercial radio job at WTAG-AM in 1967, he was attracted to the woman who took his order for telephone service, calling back several times to say he couldn't get it all quite right.
A few months later, Mr. Richards and that telephone operator, Virginia, were engaged to be married.
After 13 years at WTAG, the better weather of Florida beckoned, and the Breitkreutz family headed south so Richards could take a job at WPLP, the first talk radio station in the Tampa Bay area. By 1988, the station had changed hands and Richards moved on to WFLA.
"It was his life and he loved it," said Mrs. Breitkreutz.
Contributions in Richards' memory can be made to the American Cancer Society or the Good Samaritan Church.