It was a sad day when Dave Richey and I first met. He was guiding steelhead fishermen on Michigan’s Platte River when a mutual friend died in a car accident. Dave helped with funeral arrangements and was a pallbearer. He formed work groups to clean his friend’s store so the business could be sold.
We met before and after the funeral, and soon I was salmon fishing with him. We spent evenings on Lake Michigan and married within months.
His writing career began in 1967 during Michigan’s first salmon season with a story about fly-fishing for coho salmon. At that time, Stan Meseroll worked for Sports Afield. Dave sent 3,000 words and 12 photos, and they bought his first story. He sold five more articles before slamming face first into the brick wall of magazine rejection slips.
His first OWAA conference was in Duluth, Minn., in 1969. There he met his heroes, but none offered words of advice.
“Just keep at it, kid,” they said, “and maybe you will make it.”
“I kept at it, quit asking for help, and walked alone through the minefields of freelance outdoor writing,” he said. “But I vowed some day to help other writers succeed.”
Richey’s second big break (pun intended) came in 1970 when he fell off a third-story fire escape in Moosonee, Ontario, while taking photos. He caught himself on a fire-escape support, slammed into a brick wall, ripped hide off his butt and dangled 35 feet above a parking lot before climbing to safety.
That fall broke his spine in two places, and he had two vertebrae fused. Three months later, he broke his back again and was in a full-body cast for months.
“I jumped into freelancing full time after that, worked 18-hour days for years, and things turned around when Kay and I were married in 1977,” he said. “She traveled with me, did research, and I paid her back by making her an editor, writer and photographer.”
Four children by his previous marriage and child-support payments became the driving force behind a workload that would have broken most people.
“It was a daily challenge to make ends meet, and we always wondered when the next check would arrive,” Richey said. “We worked our way through these financial troubles through sheer grit and determination.”
His value to magazines was knowing what articles had been written, when and where they appeared and when a similar story should run again. He could look at a photo and outline 25 previously unwritten feature magazine articles. His approach led to 7,000-plus magazine articles, 12,000 newspaper columns and features and 22 books.
“I could look past obvious stories and think of new ideas that editors would buy,” he said. “I became a hole filler, a writer who could fill a slot for an editor within three days. Those stories always brought higher paychecks.”
He wrote books while simultaneously penning magazine articles, and in 1979 and 1980 he wrote 350 articles and three books per year.
“It was great,” he said. “Work poured in and out, and we spent six months on the road and six months writing. I then felt it was time to help others.”
He mentored members such as Tom Huggler, Richard Smith, David Rose, Ken Darwin, George Richey, Mark Romanack and me. Many others floated through his life, and he always made time to help them.
Conservation writing became increasingly important to Richey after he joined the Detroit News in 1980. He worked undercover for 18 months in 1981-1982, gained the trust of major poachers and wrote a 13-part series that won him the Ben East Excellence in Conservation Journalism Award. That led to more notoriety than he wanted.
He had many threats on his life plus three half-hearted attempts. Our home was broken into twice, and an anonymous caller told him, “This proves we can get into your house whenever we want. Remember, dead men don’t write anti-poaching stories.”
Did he back off? No, he encouraged the voices to deal with him directly, anywhere, any time. They chose not to risk a confrontation. Richey also led the fight to save bear hunting in Michigan and exposed state Department of Natural Resources management problems.
One wonders where his boundless energy comes from. It stems from his desire to make his business profitable. Doing so means outworking others.
“My first seven years were tough,” he said. “I went to New York to meet editors. I edited on-spec pieces for them, and my help led to more work. It also led to three job offers from Outdoor Life and Sports Afield, but I didn’t like New York City.”
His 34-year OWAA membership is a love affair. Someone once said that if a job needs doing, give it to a busy man. Richey is always busy, but he is never too busy for OWAA.
“I once counted the committees I’ve chaired or served on, and it numbers about 50,” he said. “Serving on committees helps OWAA and the volunteer, but it doesn’t directly put money in our pocket. But then, not everything we do should be for personal gain: some things must be done for other personal reasons. I feel a person must give to get.”
Dave Richey may seem mysterious to those who don’t know him. However, he willingly shares his knowledge and gives of himself to provide readers the best possible outdoor coverage.
Just so OWAA members realize that nepotism is still alive and well, consider that he and I have been married for 26 years. We work together, made outdoor writing a mutual career path and love each other. That love is legendary as well.
An OWAA member since 1978, Kay Richey lives with Dave in Buckley, Mich.