Dee Richard, Queens columnist, dies at 86

Dee Richard with one of her two sons, Teddy, and the family boxer, Caesar, which had a penchant for channeling Little Richard on the piano, complete with howling. Photo courtesy Jim Darmos
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Dolores “Dee” Richard was a versatile, multifaceted woman of the arts: an illustrator, a photographer and a journalist with a deep interest in the people and political machinations of the city and borough she loved. She died May 22 in her Beechhurst home at the age of 86, following a brief illness.

Known to some as “the queen of Queens gossip,” Richard devoted decades to chronicling the celebrations and at times tribulations within the political and social circles in New York City’s second-most populous borough.

For the last decade, Richard’s “Dishing with Dee” column appeared each week in TimesLedger Newspapers, musing on the political happenings throughout Queens — positive or otherwise — and garnering respect among the borough’s power players.

Even with her sometimes brutal honesty, whenever she walked into a room — camera and notebook in hand — public figures rushed to greet her with a smile in the hopes of appearing in her weekly “Focus on Queens” photo page.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, called her “a fixture in Queens politics.

“Her column was a must-read for all of Queens,” he said. “But beyond her many contributions to the community, Dee was a wonderful person whose larger-than-life personality will be missed.”

Former TimesLedger Newspapers Publisher Steven Blank said he “unleashed the beast” when he introduced Richard’s column, which New York Magazine compared to the New York Post’s Page 6, about 10 years ago. The magazine dubbed her the “Gossip Queens of Queens” and related the tale of a community activist who was furious after Dee wrote about her cosmetic surgery.

“But if you’re having lunch with a columnist, you know you’re fair game,” an unapologetic and amused Richard told the magazine.

A native of Philadelphia, Richard started her career as a technical artist. During World War II, she received a scholarship to attend the Academy of Aeronautics, now known as Vaughn College, in Queens, according to her husband, Jim Darmos.

After completing study in three-dimensional architectural drawing, she was hired as an illustrator by military aircraft contractor Sikorsky Corp. in Connecticut.

“She was only one of two women who got scholarshi­ps,” he said. “It was really just her in a man’s world.”

Darmos said she went on to illustrate some of the first experimental fixed-wing aircraft manufactured by Sikorsky. Her drawings were prominently featured in textbooks.

When the war ended, Darmos said Richard returned to New York to attend the Germain School of Photography, launching her career as a wedding — and later society — photographer.

Darmos met her in 1970, at a time when she was balancing wedding photography with free-lance gigs for the New York State Sheriffs’ Deputies Association. Richard became an honorary New York state fire chief, Darmos said.

She transitioned from wedding photography to publicity and public relations for various groups and public figures, also operating fund-raising campaigns for law enforcement groups. At some point she was drawn into the political networks of Queens.

Her journalism career began with photo contributions to several weekly newspapers in Queens, later using her knowledge of the borough’s political circles to write a weekly column for TimesLedger, which was read by thousands.

Darmos said that over the 40 years he had known her, he admired her strength and character.

“There are very few people I’ve met like her — with her convictions,” he said. “She wanted to do the right thing for everybody. She believed the old-fashioned thing that all the news that was fit to print, you print it … but it’s gotta be the truth.”

Her resolve shined, Darmos said, when she lost four family members in a single year.

“First her mother died, then the one son, then her father died and then her other son died .… There’s few people that could survive that.”

Since her death May 22, heartfelt messages of praise and respect have poured into the TimesLedger newsroom.

Roz Liston, editor of TimesLedger, said “Dee was the ultimate professional. She loved the buzz of the Queens political world and was committed to reporting on the movers and shakers in the borough for the paper’s readers each week. She brought a special talent and unique voice to the TimesLedger that will never be matched.”

Borough President Helen Marshall said “Dee’s dry wit, sense of humor, creativity and knowledge of Queens, its government and politics combined to make her a welcome presence everywhere she went.”

Marshall said her coverage of events in both words and pictures for several Queens newspapers over the years “will be part of her lasting legacy.”

City Comptroller John Liu said “feisty and funny, she deftly chronicled — and at times skewered — the borough’s political life.”

She filed her last column and photo page for TimesLedger Monday for the May 24-30 issue.

Richard was predeceased by her father, Clement Boyle, a former employee of the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Daily News; her mother, Beatrice Bennett; her first husband, Theodore Richard, and their two sons, Michael and Theodore Jr.

She was buried with her sons at Nassau Knolls Cemetery in Port Washington, L.I.

Donations in her memory can be made to the American Heart Association.

Editor Roz Liston contributed to this story.

Updated 10:24 am, May 31, 2012
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