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Santa Monica Resident and Philanthropist David K. Richards Dies

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By Lookout Staff

April 1, 2015 -- Santa Monica resident David K. Richards, a major donor to the RAND Corporation whose ties to the nonprofit research institute spanned more than a decade, has died at age 75.

Richards died at his Santa Monica home March 19 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, RAND announced.

“The David I knew was a true visionary, bold in his thinking, with an ability to express his thoughts clearly and convincingly,” said RAND CEO and President Michael Rich. “It is impossible to overstate how much David meant to me and the many others he touched here.”

Richards served on the institution’s board of trustees from 2011 to 2014, as well as on the board of advisors of RAND Health from 2000 to 2014, and also on the advisory board of the institution’s Center of Middle East Public Policy, from 2003 to 2014.

A philanthropist, Richards underwrote an in-depth RAND research paper that sought to answer how an independent Palestinian state, if created, can be made successful. “Building a Successful Palestinian State” was launched by Richardson’s personal desire to see peace in the Middle East, RAND officials said.

“David wasn’t Jewish, he wasn’t Palestinian, and the only goal he had in either study was to find a way to do something helpful for U.S. policy and the region,” said Charles Ries, vice president, International at RAND. “He really did have vision, really brave vision, and he drew on RAND to try to help leaders in the Middle East move it toward reality.”

Released in 2005, the report included several key suggestions for improvements, including a rail and highway system linking the West Bank and Gaza to spur development in a new Palestinian state. At the time of its release, RAND officials said the report contained “the most comprehensive recommendations ever made for the success of an independent Palestinian state.”

The New York Times said the research had delivered a “gimlet-eyed survey of life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that shows how far Palestinians are from viable statehood,” and the Middle East Journal called the study a “refreshingly upbeat ‘how to’ manual” that identified the main challenges to an independent Palestinian state.

Richards and his wife also funded an ambitious RAND study on the costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is scheduled for release this spring, RAND officials said.

The son of a doctor, David Kimball Richards was born in 1939 in Maine and grew up in Vermont. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Harvard College, where he rowed for the varsity crew team, maintaining an undefeated 3-year record.

“His fellow athletes established the David K. Richards Small Boat Endowment Fund at Harvard to purchase training boats for up-and-coming rowers in perpetuity,” RAND officials said.

Although Richards was a Santa Monica resident, he lived for part of the year on his family’s farm in Stonington, Maine, where he practiced his love of rowing, according to RAND.  

“He was the quintessential out-of-the-box thinker,” said Jeffrey Wasserman, vice president of RAND Health. “I think of him like Wayne Gretzky, skating not to where the puck is, but where it is going to be.”

In 1963, Richard earned a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Wadham College, Oxford University, and a second master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School in 1965. Harvard and Wadham colleges were prominent among his philanthropic interests.

Richards spent most of his professional career as an investment fund manager, working from 1973 to 1991 for two noted investment firms, Capital Research and Management in Los Angeles, and PRIMECAP Management in Pasadena.

Richards’ long financial support for the Joint Center for History and Economics at Harvard and Cambridge universities reflected his dedication to promoting economic theory and developing solutions to economic and foreign policy problems, RAND officials said.

Richards also was a founding member of the Global Partners Council of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Richards is survived by his wife, Carol A. Liebich, son Adam, a physician and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA School of Medicine, son Peter, an actor and director in New York, grandchildren Theo and Ian, and a brother, Robert C. Richards.

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