A Consumer Advocate for the Ages

Prospecitve Graduate Students at the School of Human Ecology

The School of Human Ecology is honored to have known Bob Richards, and is very fortunate that he shared his intelligence and energy so generously with students in Consumer Science.

“This award is a wonderful way to preserve Bob Richard’s advocacy work and to continue his connection to our students,” states School of Human Ecology Dean Soyeon Shim.

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Written by Doug Moe, Wisconsin State Journal, published 12/22/2014

Once upon a time, whenever Bob Richards walked into the Village Bar, his neighborhood choice for a burger and other refreshment, all the regulars would grin, and, as one, shout:

“Horowitz!”

David Horowitz hosted a popular, nationally syndicated consumer protection television program called “Fight Back!”

Bob Richards was more local to Madison, though his newspaper column was syndicated, and one of his books received national attention.

He was probably best known for his work on WMTV/Ch. 15. Richards started covering cops and courts — his knowledge of the notorious Barbara Hoffman murder case was encyclopedic — and his passion for hockey led to his producer’s role on “Center Ice with Jeff Sauer,” a weekly show devoted to Badger hockey.

But Richards’ signal achievement, on television, in his books and print journalism — and, later, in his work for patients at Dean Health System — was his pioneering consumer advocacy. It’s why folks at the Village yelled “Horowitz” before Bob could order a beer.

If someone woke up in an apartment in Fitchburg with no heat, maybe they didn’t call Richards first. But if they reached the manager, or the building owner, and got this back: “Hey, this is Wisconsin. It’s just October, one of those brisk mornings,” and if a week passed and there was still no heat or hot water in the unit, then they called Richards.

The chilly Fitchburg apartment anecdote led a 1990 Richards column in The Cap Times.

I didn’t want the year to get away without noting that 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the first awarding of the Bob Richards Consumer Advocacy Internship Award at UW-Madison.

As a point of disclosure, I should note that I was reminded of this while snooping around some opened mail on my kitchen counter.

Bob died in July 2003, at 54, after suffering a heart attack while playing the Monona Golf Course. Among those who helped establish the internship in his name were his widow, Julie Hood, and his longtime friend and colleague, Jeanan Yasiri, better known to readers of this space as the ever-patient Mrs. Moe.

Jeanan worked with Bob at Ch. 15, and then at Dean Health System. Dean, along with the Evjue Foundation and others, made contributions to inaugurate the award, which provides financial assistance to students in the School of Human Ecology (SOHE), where Richards often lectured.

The letters on our kitchen counter were thank-you notes to Jeanan from the three students in SOHE who were awarded the internship this year. Julie Hood, now Julie Hood Shinnick, also received thank-you letters. None of the three students is planning a career in consumer advocacy, exactly, but they are all engaged in meaningful study. Bob Richards, I’m sure, would be gratified to read those letters.

Richards was originally from Appleton. He studied journalism at UW-Madison, graduating in 1971. He first considered sports reporting, but after being hired by Don “Windy” Schmidt at Ch. 15, and covering antiwar demonstrations on campus, his interests broadened.

His passion for sports, however, remained. It led to his friendship with Sauer, and their “Center Ice” show, and maybe it had something to do with Bob wearing the kind of loud jackets that are the pride of many local sports anchors.

“His plaid sport coats were beacons in the dusk of journalism fashion,” George Hesselberg noted last week.

Hesselberg, my State Journal colleague, helped pioneer — along with Richards — consumer reporting in Madison. “Good guy and good reporter,” George added, when I asked about Bob. “He loved a good swindle story, which fed his solid, persistent consumer reporting.”

In the Ch. 15 newsroom, Richards — whose consumer segments were called “Contact 15” — was universally known as “the Bobber,” an affectionate nickname that should not be construed as suggesting a lack of seriousness. Richards was a meticulous reporter, dogged, fair and unfailingly helpful to younger colleagues. Richards began writing his Cap Times column, called “Consumer Watch,” while still at the TV station.

In 1991, he moved to Dean, where he became director of patient advocacy, a position that broke new ground in the health care industry, won national notice, and led to a book that Bob coauthored, titled “Putting the Patient First.”

Richards’ next book, in 1999, was titled “It’s in the Fine Print,” a compilation of his Cap Times columns that had enthusiastic cover blurbs from Jim Doyle and Russ Feingold.

By the time of its publication, Bob had married the love of his life, Julie Hood, who was a friend of two decades standing prior to their 1997 marriage. “He was an amazing, singular individual,” Julie said recently.

Bob’s last Cap Times column was posthumous, published a month after his fatal heart attack. He might have written it last week.

“Businesses are making money by trading your information,” Richards wrote. “Paying attention to what pieces of data are being collected about you is more important than ever.”

Even though he died a decade ago, Bob Richards was right on top of one of the most important consumer issues of today. Let’s see Horowitz do that.

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