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Obituaries

Richard C. Riggs Jr., who led rebuilding of Maryland Club after devastating fire, dies

Richard Cromwell Riggs Jr., the former owner of the Barton Cotton printing firm who led the restoration of the Maryland Club after its 1995 fire, died of Parkinson’s disease complications March 23 at his Poplar Hill home. He was days short of his 83rd birthday.

Born in Baltimore, he grew up in Catonsville and on a Baltimore County farm that is now the Caves Valley Country Club. He was the son of Richard C. Riggs Sr., who bred Hereford cattle, and his wife, Eleanor Allen Reifsnyder, a world traveler.

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He attended the Calvert School and was a 1957 graduate of Gilman School. He earned an economics degree with honors from Princeton University and a master’s degree in business from Harvard University.

Mr. Riggs then was a research assistant in corporate finance at Harvard Business School and from 1966 to 1973 worked privately with business partners in venture capital.

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He met his future wife, Sheila Benhan Kayser, at a Christmas party in Boston. They married in 1970.

In 1973 Mr. Riggs acquired a financially troubled printing business, Barton Cotton Inc. He expanded its scope and moved it into the direct mail and fundraising fields.

Friends said he brought a rigor and sophistication to what had been a teetering, old line business. He made it highly profitable, they said.

“If you presented Dick with a business proposition, he could get to the essence of the issue quickly. He had a wonderful business mind and was a clear thinking individual,” said Benjamin H. Griswold IV, a longtime friend. “He was a year ahead of me in school and I always looked up to him.”

Mr. Riggs later sold Barton Cotton to American Capital Strategies.

“Dick was a son of Baltimore. His family had long ties to the city and to the countryside around the city, to its history and its present,” said his wife, Sheila. “Those ties were a major part of his soul and informed any number of his activities.”

Dr. James Gieske said, “I met him in kindergarten and Dick was private and dignified then and he never changed. He was skilled at hiding his intelligence. He was an understated person and a great listener. He did a lot of charitable work in Baltimore under the radar for causes that promoted the disadvantaged in the city.”

The Maryland Club, a Mount Vernon neighborhood landmark at Charles and Eager streets, erupted in flames on a Saturday night in Aug., 1995. Mr. Riggs was its president.

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Reached by phone while vacationing with his family in Colorado, he flew home and initiated plans for the restoration of the structure. He convened a meeting of the club membership at Gilman School days later and vowed the club would survive. He assured them it was fully insured.

“He was a smart, focused individual and was instrumental times 10 in making the club get open again,” said Walter Schamu, a friend and architect. “Dick had that spark in his eye. He told me he worked by listening to everyone in a room and but then made his own decision. And like a good manager, he stepped back and let people do their jobs.”

His cousin, Clinton R. Daly, said, “Dick had a beautiful mind. He looked at things differently. He was a deep thinker and you could not respond to him immediately. You had to step back and consider what he had said.”

Dr. William F. Fritz, a family friend, said, “From finance to fishing, you could count on Dick’s good advice. He was an avid sportsman who loved the Eastern Shore. His character and ethics were above reproach. His quiet, soft-spoken manner belied his leadership quality and the strong convictions he held.”

Dr. Fritz also said, “Baltimore will always be a bigger city for having Dick Riggs as a citizen.”

Mr. Riggs was a member of the vestry and treasurer of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. He served on the boards of the Baltimore Economic Development Corporation, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Waverly Press and Ducks Unlimited.

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He was a past chair of Baltimore’s Off-Street Parking Commission.

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In addition to the Maryland Club, he belonged to the Elkridge Club, Bachelors Cotillon, the Jupiter Island Club and the Nantucket Yacht Club.

Mr. Riggs spent his free time wing shooting, fishing and sailing. He was an ardent traveler and enjoyed sampling the foods of the places he visited.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease many years ago and had to give up skiing and his other sports. He enjoyed reading and most recently finished a book about the mathematician Euclid.

“Although he spoke very little about his own struggle with Parkinson’s, he was often asked to speak with a person facing a new diagnosis, and to share thoughts about what had helped him,” said his wife.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. April 22 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane, in Owings Mills.

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Survivors include his wife of nearly 52 years, Sheila Benhan Kayser, former board chair of the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center; a daughter, Charlotte Cromwell Riggs Schaffel of New York City; a son, George Benham Riggs of Baltimore; two sisters, Mary Cromwell Riggs Wolfe of Baltimore and Jane Carew Riggs Garcia-Mansilla of Long Island and New York.

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