Bill Richey was a man with the strength of a boxer, the tenacity of a Marine, the instincts of an outdoorsman, the intellect of a barrister and the sensibility of an artist.

Whatever his interest, Richey pursued it with passion.

"He was a big, strong man who had many, many sides to him," said his wife of 17 years, Judy Richey.

He was an accomplished Renaissance man who was as comfortable in a rowdy bar as he was at the opera.

"He was my kind of people," said longtime friend Gary Afseth.

"He was a good guy. He did so many things, but he was common as an old shoe when you sat down to talk to him."

When Richey's health began to fail, it was Afseth to whom he gave his prized possessions: his riding tack, his 1941 Golden Gloves boxing trophy and the bronzes he sculpted.

"Every time I see it," Afseth said of the trophy, "it reminds me of him."

Richey, who had Parkinson's disease, has been on Afseth's mind more often recently. Richey died Aug. 30 in San Diego at age 86. He and Judy had moved there in 2006 to be closer to her family.

Richey was born in Tucson and enjoyed a childhood that could never be re-created.

"My mother would drop us off at Sabino Canyon and we would stay two or three weeks at a time, swimming and fishing in the creek — drank out of it, too," Richey said in a 2003 Arizona Daily Star article.

"There were four or five of us. We took canned goods and hunted frogs and rattlesnakes. We were like Tom Sawyer."

Those early survival instincts aided Richey during the Great Depression. Though his father was a prominent Tucson attorney, the stock market crash took its toll on the family of seven.

Richey, the baby of the family, would pick figs with his sister from a tree on their property and sell them to Steinfeld's market, earning 10 cents per pound.

His father, Tom Richey, supplemented meals for his family with doves he shot.

The family lost its barrio home during the Depression and moved to 20 acres the family owned at Prince Road and Mountain Avenue.

After Bill Richey graduated from Tucson High in 1940, he paid his way through the University of Arizona with boxing proceeds. He mixed it up at Tucson's old Canvas Castle and took the light-heavyweight Golden Gloves title for Arizona.

"I won my first 19 fights; 17 were knockouts," he said in 2003.

He left school to join the Marines, serving in the South Pacific during World War II.

"He talked about hand-to-hand combat, fighting and all the different conflicts he was in over near Japan. He just spoke openly about a lot of things," Afseth said.

Near the end of his life, Richey, a self-taught artist, sculpted his only bronze that didn't feature wildlife: a scene from a battle he had been witness to in Guam.

After the war, Richey attended Michigan State University for a year on a boxing scholarship, before returning to Tucson and enrolling in law school.

To supplement his G.I. Bill college funds, he worked for a time as a bouncer at the Chanticleer, a watering hole on South Sixth Avenue that has since been turned into a strip mall.

The bar was a favorite of working men and cowboys, who crammed into the small cantina to hear the live music nightly.

"Some of those cowboys and people from the (Air Force) base were real interesting," Richey said in a 1987 Star article. "The guy who was the bouncer before me had gotten in a fight the day before I was hired. Somebody bit his ear off."

In the 2003 article, Richey recalled: "I would go to law school with big bites in my fists. Those cowboys on the South Side were something else."

Henry Zipf, 91, a retired attorney now living in Tubac, knew Richey for 65 years. They grew up in the same neighborhood. Zipf paid Richey a dollar a week to help him deliver newspapers. And, eventually, they set up a law practice together.

"He put away a couple big cowboys, sent them to the hospital," Zipf said. "That was a tough bar."

Richey managed to graduate from law school — and the Chanticleer — with ears intact, and set up his law practice in 1952. Over the next 40 years, Richey practiced law, served a term in the state Legislature and married a fellow attorney, Mary Anne Reimann, a World War II pilot who would go on to serve as a federal judge. The couple had one daughter, Annie Richey Wamsley.

Grace Noreuil was Richey's secretary for 38 years. Despite his pugilistic tendencies in his younger years, Noreuil said her boss was good-natured and got along with everyone.

"In the legal field, he was just as congenial as he could be," she said. "I enjoyed every hour I worked for him, every year.

"From me, you can put a big gold star in his crown."

By the early 1980s, Richey had semiretired to the 40 acres he and his wife owned in the White Mountains. After Mary Anne died of cancer in 1983, Richey continued to work part time for a few years as an attorney and Juvenile Court judge in Greenlee County while renting out the cabins he'd built.

He met his future wife, Judy, in 1989, when her brother rented one of the cabins. Judy, a dancer and English teacher, decided to remain in the area and take a job at the local college. In 1991, she and Richey wed.

"Bill was a person who was fun to be with; a whole lot of fun," Judy said. "Life for Bill was fun. He was a very social person; loved to party, but he also was extremely caring and he was a really cool guy."

The couple lived on their ranch year-round until 1998, when the cold climate and upkeep of the cabins became too difficult.

Yet even the winter before they moved back to Tucson, when Richey was in his mid-70s, he managed to chop seven cords of wood to heat their home.

"He loved to chop wood," Judy said. "He was so strong. He could swing an ax like you couldn't believe."

"He loved life," said Zipf, his childhood pal. "Bill could do just about anything. He was a heck of a guy."

Life Stories

This feature chronicles the lives of recently deceased Tucsonans. Some were well-known across the community. Others had an impact on a smaller sphere of friends, family and acquaintances. Many of these people led interesting — and sometimes extraordinary — lives with little or no fanfare. Now you'll hear their stories. Past "Life Stories" are online at

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