Church organist still in tune af  ter 67 years

By Brendon McMahon

When a young Margaret Richards came home one day in November 1947 to find her mother in intense conversation with the Hokitika Presbyterian minister, she never expected it would be the start of a 67-year musical commitment.
Margaret (nee Anderson), then a 21-year-old teacher and an accomplished pianist, said it turned out the congregation’s long-standing organist, Elsie Robinson, had had to retire due to ill-health.
Someone was needed to fill the breach immediately, particularly for the popular Sunday night service. Would Margaret, with her previous experience as a Sunday school musician, be able to help?
“He said to think about it. My mother said, ‘now Margaret, if you do take that on, you’ve got to be there for everything they want you for,’” Mrs Richards recalled this week.
That is exactly what she has done for nearly seven decades. Since 1947 Mrs Richards has played for countless weddings and funerals, as well as being on deck every week for Sunday services. She recalls being “very nervous” the first time she played for a full church service in November 1947, but noted that the choir on that occasion “was so kind”.
Over the years she has come to modestly relish the opportunity to share her musical gift.
“It was the commitment my mother said it would be, and I’ve felt privileged. I never thought to myself, I wished I didn’t have to.”
Mrs Richards has played not only in Hokitika but also in almost every church up and down the West Coast, from Blackball to Franz Josef Glacier.
Along with a change in church attendance, the style of church music has been somewhat liberated in the past 67 years, she said, recalling how she used to have to comply with a guide of what was considered ‘appropriate’.
“Now you can play anything ... I think the hymns are not as sombre.”
Now in her 89th year, Mrs Richards played down her long stint at the keyboard.
While age has diminished her musical energy she told the Guardian she was not expecting to retire any time soon. However, being on deck every Sunday is harder these days as she juggles this with the care of a family member at home.
Mrs Richards paid tribute to the support her family received from within the Hokitika community to enable her to still occasionally to play at St Andrew’s Presbyterian.
Hokitika minister Rev John Drylie described Mrs Richards’ dedication as “incredible”.
The St Andrew’s congregation planned to honour her in a special way this Sunday, he said.