John Richards, former Potlatch CEO and North Idaho timber official, dies at 81

August 7, 2018

On the day they sold the family sawmill business, John Richards and his twin brother, Tom, got up at 3 a.m.

They visited the company’s three mills, personally telling each shift of workers about the decision to sell Idaho Forest Industries to a Portland firm, Stimson Lumber Co.

John Richards, 81, died July 25. He was part of a storied North Idaho timber family and also worked for Potlatch Corp., where he retired as chairman in 1999.

Richards and his brother were known for their ability to relate well both to shift workers and company managers. Under their leadership, Idaho Forest Industries had a reputation as a steady employer during turbulent years in the timber industry. The Richards were also known as philanthropists who quietly gave back to the community.

John Richards and his brother, Tom, where born March 17, 1937, in Spokane. When the twins were 5, the family moved to an old farm house in Hayden Lake. Their father thought a country lifestyle would be healthier for the boys. The twins went to grade school with children who would later work for them.

John Richards graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics and earned his MBA at Harvard Business School. In a 2000 interview, Richards recalled his dad frequently called him and his brother while they were in graduate school, encouraging them to finish their studies at Harvard and come home to run the family business.

Richards’ grandfather got into the timber business in the 1920s, supplying ties to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. Richards’ father, John S. Richards, later ran Atlas Tie Co., which merged with several other companies in 1969 to become Idaho Forest Industries.

Both Richards and his brother worked for the family business. John Richards ran a mill in Fernwood, Idaho, and helped build a plywood plant in St. Maries. The plywood plant sold to Potlatch Corp., where Richards had a 29-year career while his brother ran Idaho Forest Industries.

In 2000, the Richards sold Idaho Forest Industries to Stimson Lumber. They picked the Portland company from among several bidders, choosing it because it was also family owned, with similar values.

In 2014, both John and Tom Richards were inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame for their leadership in the timber industry and charitable giving. The many organizations they supported included North Idaho College, Kootenai Health Foundation and the EXCEL Foundation, which provides grants to Coeur d’Alene teachers for innovative projects.

Richards is survived by his wife, Joy Richards of Hayden Lake; two sons, John Richards of Hayden and David Richards of Bellingham; daughter Morgan Richards Dyer of Hayden; brother Tom of Hayden Lake; three grandchildren and a niece and nephew.

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