‘Natchez is where he was happiest’: Ron Riches, former long-time owner of Monmouth, dies

Published 12:10 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Ron and Lani Riches came to Natchez from Los Angeles as tourists in 1976 and fell in love with the historic city and its community.

The Riches purchased Monmouth, the 1818 Greek Revival mansion and National Historic Landmark, in 1978. Ron and Lani turned it into one of the city’s first bed and breakfast operations. Los Angeles continued to be their permanent home, but both very much immersed themselves in Natchez when they were here, “which was a lot,” said Mimi Miller of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Lani announced to friends on Facebook on Wednesday that Ron Riches, her husband of 60 years, died June 5 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82.

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Riches enjoyed the Natchez community and did more than his fair share of helping it progress, Miller said. He was one of the original four founders of the Natchez Balloon Festival along with James Biglane, Cappy Stahlman and Ron Miller.

“Ron Riches, James Biglane and Cappy Stahlman were across the street from our offices having lunch at Doug’s. They started talking about a balloon event one of them had attended and Ron Riches picked up the phone and called Ron Miller and told him to come over there. Before you knew it, Natchez had its first balloon festival,” Miller said.

Riches, who had been a computer programmer before going back to college and earning a degree in art history, bought and donated the Historic Natchez Foundation its first computer.

“It was an Apple II E,” Miller said. “Ron supported everything the Historic Natchez Foundation did. We had a reproduction licensing program for years and these people from companies came here interested in licensing Natchez products and they had to be entertained. Ron took a strong role in doing that. He was always good about donating rooms and other amenities.”

In addition, Riches was a founder of what is now the Natchez Festival of Music. When it began, it was the Natchez Opera Festival, Miller said.

“He was a good person and he loved Natchez — everything about it,” Miller said.

Deborah Cosey, who owns Concord Quarters with her husband, Gregory, worked at Monmouth for the Riches for more than 15 years.

“At Monmouth, I wore many hats. I managed the restaurant and the front desk. Ronald Riches was a wonderful gentleman. People prove to be your friend in life. Ron Riches truly proved to be my friend,” Cosey said. “Once I woke up in the hospital and he was there by the bedside. He proved he was my friend many times. I am sure most of the people I worked with — some who were there for more than 30 years — feel the same. That’s why people stayed. They stayed for many years, so you know it was a good atmosphere.

“My husband and I were married there on June 16, 2001. That was also Lani’s birthday. We had the finest wedding money could buy, and we didn’t have to spend a dime,” Cosey said.

She and Lani Riches have stayed in contact since the Riches left Monmouth and returned to Los Angeles.

“We are good ol’ friends. In fact, it’s like we are family. None of the people who worked there were just employees. We were family. As a matter of fact, she said to me two days ago that Ronnie was passing. ‘He is going,’ she said. We will miss old Ronald Riches. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but just knowing he was there … He will be missed by many.”

Natchez native Chip Newman was a young man when his father, the late Spike Newman, met and became business partners in Natchez with Riches.

“When I think of Ron, I think of one of those rare souls who was so considerate of other people. He made their problems his own. He was a true friend in every sense of the word. He never kept score,” Newman said. “One of the things I really remember is he had a tremendous ability to reach out to all people and treat everyone the same, like they were special, regardless of their background, and he was genuine about it. He truly cared about people. He looked them in the eye and he just had an outpouring of love.”

Wayne Bryant Canon, whose father the late Ronnie Bryant was Riches’ banker at United MIssissippi Bank, said Ron was a lover of history and was fascinated by John Quitman, the original owner of Monmouth.

“John Quitman was a Spanish-American war hero. Ron began researching him and the history of Monmouth and promoted Natchez so much through Monmouth … Ron advertised Natchez everywhere he went. Ron and Monmouth were crucial in building up tourism in Natchez in the late ’70s and ’80s by using Monmouth as a marketing tool,” Canon said.

Toward the end of his time at Monmouth, Riches began declining mentally, which Miller said he hid very well from his family and friends.

“We noticed he seemed distracted. He was not his usual energetic, engaged self,” she said.

Riches financial affairs suffered because of his decline and in February 2012, Monmouth went back to the bank and the Riches went back to Los Angeles.

The Riches had two children, daughters Angie Riches, 58, and Alana Riches, 53. Angie said her father loved the people of Natchez. And, as a Los Angeles real estate developer, he found Monmouth intriguing.

“To have 27 acres of anything was something for a Los Angeles real estate developer, but it was the people. They had been visiting Natchez for two years before they bought Monmouth. I was 10 years old then, and I hated Natchez, but later I grew to love it,” she said. “He loved everything about Natchez.”

Angie said a big influence on her parents’ investment in Natchez was the late Buzz Harper. 

“They loved Buzz. Buzz was a huge influence on him and they stayed very close friends,” she said.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ron enjoyed the influence he could have in a city like Natchez versus Los Angeles, Angie said.

“He helped start the music festival and the balloon festival. He worked with many mayors, and he turned Monmouth into something very special. He just had a different level of sophistication, being born and raised in Los Angeles, and both my parents loved the people of Natchez,” she said.

“I would say Monmouth and Natchez gave him an enormous amount of pride. I used to tell people my father had three daughters — me, my sister and Monmouth. He loved it. He was passionate about it. Monmouth and Natchez were my father’s home. Natchez is where he was happiest and most comfortable and is where people he loved were,” she said.

The Riches plan to return to Natchez sometime this fall for a memorial service for Ron. Details of that service will be shared when finalized.