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more about Winston School (somber note)

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Posted Mar 02, 2002 at 8:59:01 PM
Subject: more about Winston School (somber note)

This was in today's San Diego Union Tribune:

Dr. John Richards, 67; dedicated to kids with learning difficulties

By Jack Williams

March 2, 2002

To children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, Dr. John Richards offered a prescription for self-esteem and education.

As a founder of the Winston School in Del Mar in 1988, Dr. Richards focused on students in grades one through 12 whose innate intelligence was obscured by neurological problems.

"These were bright kids who didn't seem to do well," said Mark Kimball, headmaster of the 110-student school. "John knew they were not dumb and lazy, so he was medically curious. And, along the way, research showed he was right about the kids' ability to learn."

Dr. Richards' commitment to the Winston School concept stemmed from his founding in 1974 of the Center for School Problems at Kaiser Foundation Hospital-San Diego.

He died Jan. 16 at age 67 while on a bicycling tour in Vietnam.

On the first leg of a three-week trip, he was killed outside Ho Chi Minh City when a motorcycle hit the tandem bike on which he and his wife, Judy, were riding.

His wife suffered multiple injuries, including abdominal lacerations, and spent three weeks in a Singapore hospital. She was transferred Feb. 11 to Kaiser Foundation Hospital-San Diego, where she is expected to stay until late March, said daughter Amy Butterfield.

Although officially retired as a Kaiser pediatrician, Dr. Richards continued to serve the hospital's Center for School Problems until his death.

When he started the center in 1974, it was one of the first of its kind in the nation.

"We are the only clinic – maybe in the world – that does routine visits both to the home and the school when the child isn't doing well," he told The San Diego Union in 1987.

Kaiser Permanente later added two similar clinics, one in Torrance and the other in Woodland Hills.

"John was the inspiration to develop other Kaiser service areas," said Dr. Chuck Freedman, a former colleague.

"He built the clinic to be one of the largest in the country. He was pretty much self-trained in the field."

Today, the clinic is the largest of its kind in the country and served more than 2,000 students last year, said center director John Fontanesi.

"John was so loved by the families that he saw the grandchild of a child he had seen at the school in 1974," Fontanesi said.

"We're not going to be able to replace John; we're going to help to emulate him."

Dr. Richards, a La Jolla resident, was born in Mishawaka, Ind. He attended Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and earned his medical degree at Indiana University.

After completing his residency at Stanford University, he was employed by the Lutheran Church of America in India. In 1968, he returned to the United States to serve as a staff pediatrician in the Navy at Camp Pendleton Hospital.

"A school for dyslexic kids in New Hampshire piqued his interest in learning differences," Freedman said. "He visited a Winston School in Dallas and had a vision of bringing it to San Diego."

Winston schools are named for Sir Winston Churchill, who overcame learning problems as a child and became prime minister of Great Britain.

Staffed by 20 full-time employees, the Winston School in Del Mar accommodates students from San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties.

"Ninety percent of our graduates go on to two-year or four-year colleges," Kimball said.

Half the students pay their own tuition. The other half are referred to the school by public school systems, with the state covering their expenses.

"What was dearest to his heart was providing scholarships," Kimball said. "About 10 percent of the students are on scholarship, and John was the driving force behind that."

A recreational cyclist for more than 15 years, Dr. Richards often cycled to work. He played tennis, racquetball and golf and "looked 50 at age 67," Kimball said.

"He arranged his life so that he had lots of time for his family and friends," Butterfield said. "It was important for him to bring out all the children during the holidays."

Survivors include his wife, Judy; daughters, Jennifer Howell of Atlanta, Amy Butterfield of La Jolla, Melinda Sue Slover of Reston, Va., Jennifer Zimble of Monterey and Molly Richards of Be'er Sheva, Israel; sons, David of Weehocken, N.J., and Lucas of Denver; a brother, Tom of Indianapolis; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service for colleagues is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at Kaiser Foundation Hospital-San Diego. A memorial service for friends and family is scheduled March 8 at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, Solana Beach.

Donations are suggested to the Winston School, 215 Ninth St., Del Mar, CA 92014.

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