Big Band leader, cultural icon and BCIT grad, Dal Richards, passed away on December 31. He will be sorely missed by those whose lives he touched throughout his many years of entertaining.
Dal’s music career began immediately after he graduated high school in 1938. He played swing and dance music full-time for the next three decades. In the mid 60s, however, rock-n-roll took over in the music scene. Dal struggled to land regular gigs, so he enrolled in BCIT’s Hotel Management Program.
In his late 40s at the time, he found the courses challenging, particularly math. According to New Year’s Eve 2007 article in the Globe and Mail, Dal was worried about the Christmas midterms:
“I’d never written an exam; I didn’t know how to go about it, even.”
Richards had also found a gig playing the Holiday Inn six nights a week. A BCIT math teacher named Frank Greuen, sensing Richards’s panic, travelled to the hotel each night, and tutored him during intermission.
“At one point I said ‘Frank, what are you doing this for? You’ve got a family.’ It was the week before Christmas. I remember to this day, he took my tuxedo lapels and said ‘Richards, you’re the oldest guy on the campus. If I have to drag you by the ass, I’m going to get you through those Christmas exams.’ “
He passed his exams, ultimately graduating with honours and an award for high marks. “Probably the proudest award I’d ever received.”
That statuette remained in his living room for decades to come. In 1999, Dal added an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from BCIT to add to his list of accolades.
Another honour he garnered from his time at BCIT was his wife, Muriel Honey. Although they didn’t marry until 30 years later, they first became friends while students.
Dal received many awards in his lifetime. Among them, he was a recipient of The Freedom of the City, the highest award given by the City of Vancouver. Dal was also a member of both the Order of BC and the Order of Canada.
This past New Year’s Eve, Dal was booked at the Hotel Vancouver, a venue he’d played from 1940 – 1965. It would have been his 80th consecutive New Year’s Eve gig. He died just minutes before the stroke of midnight, and just a few days shy of his 98th birthday.