Jim Richards’ Legacy

A Son’s Tribute to “The Famous Dr. Richards”  |  By Seth Richards

As children, my brother and I nicknamed my dad “The Famous Dr. Richards.” His many television appearances and speaking engagements esteemed him in our minds as an important celebrity. In spite of his children’s pride, my dad’s modesty prescribed that no event or media appearance was too amateurish or unworthy of him: from judging a children’s cat show to taking calls on a local cable access program while wrangling an uncooperative, camera-shy kitten. His reward was evident: for a man who must have held hundreds of cats throughout his lifetime, his eyes never failed to light up with one draped across his arms. This radiance was characteristic of all his interactions, and commended him to feline and human alike.

Only my childhood cat, a cantankerous 20-pound orange tabby incongruously named Little Tail, regarded my dad with disdain and spurned his attentions. My dad joked that Little Tail instinctively begrudged the man responsible for his neuter.

When my dad passed away ten years ago, my family received scores of tender, heartfelt condolences from people who acutely mourned his loss and celebrated his life. Every note depicted the same man I knew: a man whose ready laugh affirmed life’s many joys in the midst of its quixotic travails, a man whose graciousness and wisdom readily turned stranger into friend, and a man whose abiding affection for cats was only surpassed by his love of their human caretakers.

I know he would be humbled by the good work that the Cornell Feline Health Center continues to do in his honor and for the sake of our feline friends—even ones as testy as Little Tail.

“I largely credit Jim for many of the ways I interact with veterinary colleagues and cat owners. Jim’s personality was a fine example of how to communicate and cooperate. He treated everyone with respect and collegiality, and knew personal details of cats and their owners who found it very endearing when he would remember them. He saw the good in every person and cat, and I learned a great deal from him.”

    – Paul Maza, DVM, PhD
       Camuti Consultant and former FHC Co-Director

“I remember Dr. Richards’ smile and how much he and Dr. Mew bonded. If Dr. Richards wasn’t paying enough attention to Dr. Mew, he would start crumpling up the papers on his desk with his claws to show his disdain. I also recall hearing him share how he would take a homeless person to dinner and converse with them. I think he even did this sometimes when he was out of town. He had a soft spot and would always take time to help someone in need. I also remember how we were inundated with calls and letters from donors and others who knew Dr. Richards professionally when they learned of his passing. All were grieving his loss, even people who only knew of him and had never met him.” 

    – Sheryl Thomas
       Former FHC Staff Member

“Jim Richards was one of the finest individuals I have ever met.  Scripture tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Jim attempted very successfully to live his life such that these characteristics could shine through him and touch the lives of everyone he met.

Jim had many, many media contacts. For many cat owners, he was the face of Cornell University. He was a natural in front of a camera or a microphone, not promoting himself in any way in his sincere humility, but promoting the health and welfare of cats, or his ‘kitties’ as he called them.

Jim became very active in the American Association of Feline Practitioners, or AAFP. In due time, he became a board member, and then became President. Jim became the ‘go to’ guy for AAFP. When a program needed to be pulled together, when a panel on vaccines or feline leukemia testing needed to be organized and the recommendations published, Jim was the one to organize the meetings and write up the reports.

I’ve always said that one of the best things I ever did at Cornell was to hire Jim Richards to be part of, and eventually Director of, the Cornell Feline Health Center. His legacy continues to shine in the field of feline medicine.”

    – Fred Scott, DVM, PhD
       FHC Founder and former Director