Those who care about English punctuation, especially the apostrophe, will be saddened to hear of the death of John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, who died peacefully in hospital with his children at his bedside on 30th March 2021.
John moved to Boston, Lincolnshire (UK) in 1988 when he retired from his work as a journalist. Looking for an outlet for his journalistic energies, in 2001 he started a campaign against the increasingly widespread misuse of the apostrophe. “The apostrophe deserves our protection. This poor defenceless creature is indeed a threatened species”, he remarked.
Within weeks of the launch he was inundated by interview requests from newspapers, radio and TV stations, as well as thousands of supportive emails from all around the world. From American soldiers in Iraq to a peer in the House of Lords, from radio stations in Australia to TV stations in Sweden, the variety of interest shown in the apostrophe was beyond his wildest dreams. John’s name was correctly given as the answer to a question asked by Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge, which delighted him. In 2001, Harvard University awarded him the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature – given for unusual or trivial achievements in research.
In 2019, aged 95, he decided to close the APS, citing his age and a belief that “the barbarians have won”. He thought that the widespread use of modern technology would eventually render apostrophes redundant.
During his time in Boston, John was an active member of the Blackfriars Drama Society, treading the boards for the first time in his seventies, wrote a play which was performed by the Society to great acclaim, and frequently featured on the letter pages of local newspapers. He was a skilful and imaginative photographer, had a keen interest in science and history, and enjoyed watercolour painting and pen and ink drawing. He kept an interest in the political changes taking place and handled increasing age and infirmity with courage and dignity.
He will be sadly missed by his family and friends and is survived by his children, Katherine and Stephen.