"Spunky" is perhaps the best word to describe Margaret Richards. Her blue eyes sparkle when she talks, and her description of her career is full of anecdotes and animated descriptions. She thinks of herself as a Unipresser, a name for someone who works at United Press International [UPI]. For forty-three years (1931 to 1974), Margaret Richards worked in the Kansas City bureau of United Press; it is the only journalism job she ever had.
These oral history interviews straddled Richards' 81st birthday. She lives in a double-wide mobile home in a small mobile home park in Boulder City, Nevada, with her husband, Jake, and their schnauzer, Rowde (the dog's name is on the mailbox). Boulder City is twenty-two miles outside of Las Vegas, and it is the Richards' home now. Their only son, Clint, teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Richardses moved here from their original Kansas City home soon after Margaret's retirement from UPI.
Among the stories Richards covered in her years with UPI were:
~ the Kansas City mobs, including a mob killing at Union Station that she literally stumbled onto by accident;
~ the kidnapping of young Bobby Greenlease, son of a local wealthy family;
~ the Kansas City floods, which Richards says did about $1 billion damage;
~ Boss Tom Pendergast, a powerful Kansas City politician who controlled local politics in the 1920s and 1930s and finally was sent to jail for income tax evasion;
~ Former President Harry Truman and his wife Bess and daughter Margaret.
Her conversation is sprinkled with UPI jargon, and she was eager to share these phrases. In the appendix to this interview is a list of UPI phrases she dictated to me, with their definitions, which Richards felt might otherwise be forgotten. In UPI shorthand, a summary of past events is called a "backlooker." In fact, these oral history interviews might be called one huge backlooker on the life of Margaret Richards.
At Richards' 1974 UPI retirement party, her co-workers gave her an electric typewriter so she could do some writing. (She says she hasn't written a word since.) They also gave her a pair of white shoes, since she had kidded her UPI colleagues about ruining her new white shoes when she reported on the Union Station Massacre because the shoes were covered with blood; she complained that she should have been able to claim the shoes on her expense account.
The bureau's final gift for Richards was the office chair she had used in Kansas City for so many years, with a plaque on the back of the chair that reads "73s, KP." This is UPI language for "Best regards, Kansas City." Margaret Richards also chose to end this interview with a UPI message, a Unipresser still.
January 22, 1991
© 1991, The Washington Press Club Foundation