Former Monmouth owners ‘heartbroken’ by news of Smith’s death
Lani and Ron Riches were in their 30s in 1978 when they moved to Natchez and took on the task of restoring Monmouth.
Monmouth, the 1818 Greek Revival mansion, is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
“I was a young boy,” Ron said on Tuesday morning from his home in Los Angeles. He will soon be 79.
The Riches chose Danny Smith to handle the historic home’s renovation, and thus began a relationship that became as close as family.
“He was a brother to us. We really were heartbroken, but we are grateful he is out of pain,” Lani Riches said.
Smith died Aug. 13 at age 69.
“Danny was very, very knowledgeable about carpentry work and restoration work,” Ron Riches said. “We had several contractors we were looking at, but I was impressed with Danny’s recommendations from people he had worked for, and we liked him so much. He was a funny guy.”
Earning the restoration contract for Monmouth was Danny’s big break and the beginning of a career of his won. Previously, he had worked for well-known contractor, Dix Fowler.
Through the process, the Riches quickly became friends with Danny, and that lead through the years to friendships with his wife and their daughters.
“The most important thing is Danny Smith was more than a contractor to me. He was like a little brother. He had just married Mary Katherine,” Ron said. “We became friends, then the children came. Danny desperately wanted boys, by my wife wanted him to have girls. He always accused Lani of out-praying him.”
The Smiths had three daughters — Julia, Anna and Dottie — all survive. Two of the daughters were later married at Monmouth.
“We never used any other contractor in all the time we had Monmouth. I adored him and his skills,” Lani Riches said. “We were with them every Christmas, had baby showers and birthday parties at Monmouth. We really were family.”
She said during a visit the Smiths made to Los Angeles, Danny discovered more of his artistic side when he visited the Getty Villa. Mrs. Riches is a docent at the Getty Center.
“Danny wanted to be there the whole day. He was so interested in the museum and everything about it. He had a real artistic side, and I’m sorry he didn’t have more opportunity to tap into that. We treasure him and his family. We really are crushed. He was our family,” she said.
The Riches owned Monmouth for 35 years and had it designated a Mississippi landmark in 1986, ensuring the preservation of the home. Such a designation means the Mississippi Department of Archives and History must approve any change to the property.
The Riches said they love and miss Natchez, but are doing well in their apartment home in Los Angeles, part of a senior citizen complex, which Ron jokingly referred to as “a cage.”
“We love Natchez, and I wish we could spend more time there now. But we are living in a cage,” he said, having to stay at home during these trying times when he would prefer being out and about.
“It’s a pretty nice cage,” she said.
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