“Whether it’s been through their leadership, the arts, activism or philanthropy, these men and women have enhanced their communities and Saskatchewan as a whole,” said Lieutenant Governor W. Thomas Molloy on announcing the 2018 Order of Merit recipients. “I offer my sincere congratulations to each of them and thank them for their contributions to our province.”
Born in Ontario, Richards arrived in Saskatchewan in 1971 and almost immediately acquired a special place in his heart for the University of Saskatchewan Library. “I am not a U of S grad,” he said in a 2016 interview, “but the library is like my second home.”
Richards began his 29-year career at the University Library in the reference department and later transferred to the special collections department.
In 1995 he was awarded the first ever President’s Service Award for his outstanding contributions to the learning and working environment at the University of Saskatchewan.
Even after retirement, he continued to devote at least three hours a day to Special Collections, helping to discover and acquire research materials of interest.
Throughout his time as an employee, Richards entrusted his enormous collection of LGBTQ archives to the University of Saskatchewan library. It was one of the earliest and largest collections of LGBTQ interest to be acquired by a Canadian public archive. It was rightfully named the Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity.
“Among the collection's particular strengths are holdings of LGBT periodicals, books by Canadian authors and publishers, queer mystery and detective fiction, and titles of both nonfiction and fiction (including pulp novels) which predate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement,” reads the collection description.
To Richards, the collection was the culmination of his life’s work.
“I have done many things in my life, but this collection is one of the projects that I am happiest to have been a part of,” he said.
Outside of his work at the U of S, Richards played an extremely important role in the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Canadian gay communities.
In the 70s, he instigated marches and organized conferences around the country. In the 80s, Richards took part in Saskatchewan’s earliest AIDS awareness initiatives and aimed to provide an inclusive place for those in his community; not always an easy undertaking at a time when gay rights and the AIDS crisis were at the forefront of many political debates and oftentimes stigmatized.
Sadly Richards passed away Jan. 12, 2018, but his legacy lives on through his dedicated community work and his lasting legacy at the U of S library.