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March 8, 2009

When Alice Richards' family decided to give $1 million to the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia to create a children's garden, they didn't know they were helping fulfill a dream she had harbored for almost two decades.

Richards, who lived in Carrollton, was a charter member of the Botanical Garden's Board of Advisors and one of the garden's most devoted and beloved supporters until her death in May 2007. The mother of seven and grandmother of 24, Richards loved flowers and the outdoors and had a tender spot for children, said her son Lee Richards of St. Simons Island.

So when Lee and his siblings began discussing distribution of their mother's estate, agreement to make a gift to the Botanical Garden to create a special garden for children "took about five seconds," he said. "Mom loved her children and everybody else's children, and we knew how much she loved the Botanical Garden. We could think of no better place to leave a lasting memorial."

What the children didn't know when they made their decision was that almost 20 years earlier Richards had written on her biographical sheet for the Board of Advisors, "I'm particularly interested in the children's garden."

"We didn't learn about that until after we made the donation," said Lee Richards. "It's an amazing coincidence."

Alice Richards was the widow of Roy Richards, founder and CEO of Southwire, the largest maker of cable in North America and one of Georgia's largest corporations. Roy was a Georgia Tech graduate and neither Alice nor any of their children had any connection to the University of Georgia until Alice was asked to become a charter member of the Botanical Garden Board of Advisors through friends who were knowledgeable about the garden.

She quickly became one of the board's most committed members and was especially helpful in raising money, said Jeff Lewis, Botanical Garden director. She chaired a Gardens of the World Ball, the Botanical Garden's major annual fund-raising event, and "was always one of the first to make a pledge for a campaign and get in line to make things happen," said Lewis.

"She was a very genuine person and she loved the Botanical Garden and her fellow board members, and those of us on the staff felt the same affection for her," Lewis added.

The Advisory Board conferred emeritus status on Richards shortly before her death.

A children's garden is a key feature of the Botanical Garden master plan, which Richards worked hard to implement, and fits perfectly with the Botanical Garden's environmental education focus, Lewis said.

A site for the children's garden has been identified and planning is beginning to get underway. Lewis said the $1 million-one of the largest gifts the garden has received from an individual-will be the lead gift in a future fund-raising drive for the children's garden. The Botanical Garden will request it be named the Alice H. Richards Children's Garden.