Elizabeth Richie


Tuesday 14th - Sunday 27th May 2024

Elizabeth Richie Retrospective

The Guardian Obituary

My friend Elizabeth Richie, who has died aged 76 from a pulmonary embolism, had a career and life that encompassed success in dance, theatre administration, complementary medicine and art.

Initially a ballet dancer, she later worked at the Royal Court theatre, promoted authors at the Canadian Embassy and founded two complementary health centres and an art gallery.

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Elizabeth was the daughter of Armand Richie, a factory worker, and Marguerite (nee Couture), a homemaker. She was one of six children and the only girl.

She started studying ballet at the age of six and showed great talent. After leaving high school, she worked as a secretary to pay for her classes and at the age of 19 was awarded a scholarship to study at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal. She went on to join the performing company and later joined the Detroit Civic Ballet. The intensity of her dancing career took its toll, and in 1967 she travelled to England with the intention of forging a career in theatre. The trip, by sea, cost her $500 and she arrived in the UK with just $50 in her pocket.

After temping for a while as a secretary, she found work as a costume assistant at the Royal Court theatre, and moved up the ladder to become an assistant stage manager and eventually stage director. Following Arts Council training she worked in arts administration from 1971 at the Tyneside theatre company in Newcastle and the Phoenix theatre in Leicester, alongside artistic director Michael Bogdanov.

Arriving at the Phoenix in 1973, she was tasked with running it as a young people’s theatre, so she quickly established contacts with schools, social and community workers. She arrived just as company and staff were moving out to take over the new Haymarket Theatre, and everyone expected the Phoenix to close down. For the first six months she was doing everything from publicity to house management to finance as there was no money. However, the operation doubled in size during her tenure.

In the late 70s Elizabeth became an Arts Council drama officer, assessing the artistic merits and management of subsidised theatres. And in 1979 she joined the Canadian Embassy as its arts administrator and theatre consultant. Elizabeth promoted and organised staged play-readings and book launches for authors then little known in Britain, including Michel Tremblay, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Alice Munro.

An interest in complementary medicine led Elizabeth to pursue training in massage and traditional Chinese medicine, which she completed in 1988. She became a registered acupuncturist, working in this field with great skill and compassion. In 1990, she co-founded a complementary health centre, the Trinity Centre, in Colchester, Essex, where she practised acupuncture for two years.

In the early 90s she met her partner, Ann Pengelly, a stained-glass artist and teacher, and they relocated to Devon, where in 1996 Elizabeth co-founded the Awareness complementary health centre in Axminster.

In later years craving creative exploration, play and fun, she began to draw and paint, successfully exhibiting and selling her work, and as creative director co-founded Lyme Bay Arts, a gallery and shop in Symondsbury, Dorset. This brought her tremendous joy, nourishment and stimulation.

She is survived by Ann and by her five brothers.

By Robert Owen


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