For millions of Bay Area motorists, the daily grind of navigating through gridlock, dealing with rude drivers, encountering mistimed signals, and dodging potholes has long been a frustrating reality. However, for over three decades, they had a steadfast ally in Gary Richards, fondly known as Mr. Roadshow, whose advocacy and commitment brought their concerns to the forefront. Sadly, on Sunday, after a prolonged battle with a degenerative muscle and nerve disease, Gary Richards passed away at the age of 72.
Gary Richards’ connection with Roadshow readers went beyond the pages of the Mercury News and Bay Area News Group; it was a special bond that kept him dedicated to his role. Supported by his beloved wife, Jan, who became affectionately known as Mrs. Roadshow, Richards continued to address reader gripes, answer questions, and ensure transportation officials were aware of the issues affecting Bay Area commuters. In a poignant twist, his final column graced the pages on the day of his passing.
Sarah Dussault, senior editor of the Bay Area News Group, acknowledged Richards’ impact, stating, “Our roads are safer, and there’s a good chance your commute is smoother, thanks to his Mr. Roadshow column.” His legacy is not only a testament to his passion for his job but also to the positive changes he brought to the community.
Born in Dubuque, Iowa, on September 2, 1951, Richards’ journey into journalism began with a degree in political science from Iowa State University. While covering sports for the student newspaper, he met Jan, the love of his life. Their connection blossomed, and Richards found himself immersed in the world of journalism, eventually landing a sports editor position at the Ames Tribune.
His career took a pivotal turn when he joined the Quad-City Times, working there until 1983. A fateful reunion with his former editor from Ames Tribune led him to the San Jose Mercury News, where he became a part of the sports department. In 1991, Richards initiated the Roadshow column, turning his daily dialogue with Bay Area commuters into an art form long before the era of crowdsourcing and social media.
In his inaugural column, Richards set the tone: “Every Monday we’re going to take transportation questions you have and find some answers. We may not end the backup, but we hope to make the drive a little better.” This commitment to improving the commuting experience defined his career.
Richards took pride in columns that recognized individuals performing acts of kindness and heroism in the transportation world. From the rescue of a woman who fell off the BART platform to advocating for median barriers on Highway 85, his writing shed light on the positive aspects of community engagement.
Notably, Richards’ affinity for the fuel-efficient Toyota Prius became a memorable episode when he invited readers to mark the expiration of California’s first-edition yellow carpool stickers. Among the surprise guests was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, highlighting the widespread impact of Mr. Roadshow’s reach.
Throughout his career, Richards earned the respect of transportation officials and advocacy groups working toward traffic solutions, including taxes for road work and extending BART to the South Bay. Carl Guardino, former CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, expressed, “His road on earth may have come to an end this week, but the path he’s left with his reporting and service to our region will live on forever.”
Eileen Goodwin, former executive director of the Santa Clara County Traffic Authority, praised Richards for his guidance without being “scoldy,” emphasizing the gift of his constructive approach. Jan Richards, reflecting on her late husband, said, “He loved doing the column, loved the interaction, loved his profession, loved his family, loved his coworkers. He was such a good guy.”
Gary Richards leaves behind a legacy of positive change in the Bay Area’s transportation landscape. Predeceased by his parents and brother, he is survived by his wife Jan, daughter Anne, son Matt, and grandson Oliver. The family plans to hold a memorial in February, providing an opportunity for the community to remember and celebrate the life of Mr. Roadshow.