Herbert Montague “Monty” Richards Jr., the plainspoken rancher whose passion to preserve Kahua Ranch in Kohala eventually led to family conflict in court, died Monday at age 88.
Richards recently suffered a stroke and succumbed to complications from it at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, according to his widow, Eleanore “Elly” Atherton Chong.
A fifth-generation descendant of missionaries, Richards dedicated his life to his family’s cattle ranch, which spans 4,000-plus acres, and to community service. He was known for innovations that aimed to improve Kahua Ranch’s bottom line without sacrificing its mission and spectacular beauty.
“What’s remarkable about him is that if an innovation didn’t work, he never let defeat take him down,” Chong said. “He would always look on the bright side and move on to something else. I think his sense of humor was legendary.”
Born at Kohala Hospital, Richards decided as a teenager that he wanted to make his career at the ranch in the lush, rolling hills of North Kohala. He started off with a tough job, handling cattle hides at the slaughterhouse in Honolulu, after earning his bachelor’s in animal husbandry at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He moved back to the ranch in 1955 and rose to become its manager and ultimately chairman of the board, a position he held until his death.
Richards pioneered high-intensity rapid-rotation grazing for cattle, introduced artificial insemination and added flocks of sheep. He diversified operations by growing carnations and later hydroponic lettuce, generating power with windmills, and bringing in tourists for activities including horseback and ATV rides.
“Any diversification we do here must not affect the productivity of the land for future generations,” he said in an oral history interview when he was inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame in 2000. “That is the basement floor — we never go below that. And along with that is the scenic beauty.”
Richards was a University of Hawaii regent under three governors and served on more than a dozen boards, including Bank of Hawaii, the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and Hawaii Employers Mutual Insurance Co. He also was a member of the Water Commission, Honolulu Stadium Authority and Hawaii County Police Commission.
“He was deeply committed to Kahua Ranch because it perpetuated the lifestyle of ranching in Hawaii, and he was deeply committed to the state of Hawaii,” Chong said. “He answered the call many times.”
Richards’ roots reached back to missionaries Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke, who arrived in Hawaii in 1837 and founded the Chiefs’ Children’s School for Hawaiian royalty. He and his first wife, Phyllis, who died 10 years ago, raised four children.
In 2004 he retired as ranch manager and handed the reins to his son, Herbert M. “Tim” Richards III, and joined its board of directors. But in 2013 Monty Richards as trustee expelled his four children from the board, and Richards was removed as president of Kahua Ranch Ltd.
In January, as sole trustee of the Atherton Richards Trust, which owns Kahua Ranch Ltd., Richards executed a shareholder agreement that barred his four children from any involvement in ranch operations and created a self-perpetuating board of directors. He said his goal was to help the ranch continue as an employer and provider in the community.
In April two of his children — Tim Richards and Patricia Kuualoha Richards Giles — filed a complaint in First Circuit Court seeking to void the agreement and remove their father as trustee. It said he had violated the terms of the trust and “completely iced his children out of the ranch.”
“The trustee is using the Trust assets as if he owns them free and clear and can do with them as he pleases, and not as if he is bound by a Trust Agreement to manage them for the benefit of the beneficiaries,” they wrote in the complaint.
In their complaint, the petitioners said they would like to see the ranch continue to operate if it is economically feasible but not “at a loss indefinitely.”
Richards’ other children, John Atherton Richards and Pamela Richards Ketcham, did not join the petition.
Under terms of the trust, upon Richards’ death the stock of Kahua Ranch Ltd. is to be divided equally among his four children, who are its beneficiaries. The value of the ranch has been estimated as high as $120 million.
At a court hearing Thursday on various motions involving the trust, Circuit Judge R. Mark Browning urged family members to take time to talk things over and work toward reconciliation, preferably out of court. Tim Richards, a veterinarian and Hawaii County Council member, said afterward that he is looking ahead.
“Our great-grandmother helped buy the ranch, so it’s been in the family for generations,” he said. “We are looking forward to the future for all of us, all four of us going forward.”
Along with his wife and children, Monty Richards’ survivors include brothers James Atherton Richards and Manning Richards, sister Mary Richards Yort Shattuck, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. July 21 at Kahua Ranch and noon July 28 at Central Union Church.