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Ray Richards – a lifetime of achievement in publishing

By July 1, 2013 No Comments

1 July 2013

“This is such sad news, my brain and heart are all scrambled by it,” Witi Ihimaera said today of news that Ray Richards died early this morning in Auckland at the age of 92.

“Ray Richards was a true rangatira, and I have been proud to be one of his tribe of writers, literary colleagues and friends. He was one of the poutokomanawa, central posts, supporting New Zealand writing and publishing and enabling it to flourish.

“Personally speaking, I always felt that I could have no better and finer mentor than Ray, who flew Corsair ground attack fighter aircraft from Fleet Air Arm aircraft carriers in World War II. It’s going to be difficult flying solo and looking out to my left and not to see him there. Haere ra Ray.”

Tessa Duder is another writer who has had a long relationship with the publisher and literary agent emeritus. “Ray Richards got in touch with me on the publication of my first book in 1982 and remained my agent for 31 years.

“It was a relationship based on trust, respect and love of books. He treated every one of his large stable of writers with equal skill, wisdom and shrewdness, and I believe publishers and, in recent years, screen producers, saw him as tough but pragmatic, always seeking the best outcomes for his clients.

“As the person ‘who invented New Zealand publishing’ (Geoff Walker’s description) his knowledge of local publishing was unrivalled. He will be much missed.”

On behalf of the Publishers Association of New Zealand, Kevin Chapman says, “The publishing industry has lost a legend with the death of Ray Richards. Ray has been an active agent for longer than most of the industry have been alive, but before that he was an innovative and creative publisher, responsible for discovering Barry Crump among many other writers.

“PANZ was proud to make Ray an Honorary Life Member in recognition of his sterling service to the organisation and industry. Among his many roles, Ray was involved on the executive when BPANZ was initially set up in a merger of the two previous organisations.

“Many publishers have worked with Ray and Barbara over the years and have valued his knowledge and commitment to books and writers. He will most certainly be missed, and we send our condolences to Barbara and the family.”

From a 2011 article on the PANZ website:

Ray was tough stuff from an early age. At 14 years 11 months and 12 years old respectively, Ray and his brother Sim took the train to Auckland and rode their bikes back to home in Wellington.

“They were different days then – molestation hadn’t been invented, roads were gravel not bitumen and bikes didn’t have gears!”

At Cambridge Ray got mail asking him to accept an offer of employment at AH & AW Reed Publishing. AH Reed knew of Ray and recommended him to AW for the position. “So it was helter skelter back to Wellington.”

Getting the job meant Ray didn’t have to go back to school, and we’re talking depression years here.

Ray did his bit in the Fleet Air Arm to win the war and came back to Reeds’ to find AW wanted to follow his uncle’s example and become an author. So Ray’s progression from production and magazine manager to becoming an editor, then taking over the company’s book division was warp speed (though that probably hadn’t been invented then).

That was only the beginning of a lifetime in books with some amazing milestones on the way – less than five years after fighting Japanese forces he was forging business deals with Kyoto in Japan to print New Zealand books in full colour.

Ray became New Zealand’s first literary agent in 1976, a second career that lasted for thirty plus years. He was hugely influential in our publishing industry. Personally, he was someone who was unfailingly helpful and courteous, and was generous with his time and his advice. He was active and working until his recent retirement.