Tribute paid to Boston man and founder of internationally famous Apostrophe Protection Society following his death, aged 97

The family of a Boston man who achieved international fame as a grammatical crusader have paid tribute to his memory following his death.

The late John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.
The late John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

John Richards died peacefully in hospital with his children at his bedside on March 30 following a brief illness, aged 97.

Mr Richards will be remembered by many, in this country and beyond, for founding the Apostrophe Protection Society.

Speaking about the origins of the internationally-regarded campaign, the family of Mr Richards said: “John moved to Boston in 1988 when he retired from his work as a journalist. Looking for an outlet for his journalistic energies, in 2001 he started a campaign against the increasingly widespread misuse of the apostrophe. ‘The apostrophe deserves our protection. This poor defenceless creature is indeed a threatened species’, he remarked.”

“Within weeks of the launch he was inundated by interview requests from newspapers, radio and TV stations, as well as thousands of supportive emails from all around the world,” they continued. “From American soldiers in Iraq to a peer in the House of Lords, from radio stations in Australia to TV stations in Sweden, the variety of interest shown in the apostrophe was beyond his wildest dreams.

“John’s name was correctly given as the answer to a question asked by Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge, which delighted him. In 2001, Harvard University awarded him the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature – given for unusual or trivial achievements in research.”

In 2019, aged 95, Mr Richards decided to close the society, citing his age and a belief that: ‘the barbarians have won’.

He thought that the widespread use of modern technology would eventually render apostrophes redundant, his family said.

News of the society’s closure made national and international news, with The Washington Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Dubai’s Khaleej Times among the titles to cover it. The website of the Apostrophe Protection Society, meanwhile, saw its traffic increase by 600-fold.

During his time in Boston, Mr Richards was an active member of the Boston Playgoers amateur dramatic society, treading the boards for the first time in his 70s, writing a play which was performed to great acclaim, and frequently featured on the letters pages of local newspapers.

Continuing, his family said: “He was a skilful and imaginative photographer, had a keen interest in science and history, and enjoyed watercolour painting and pen and ink drawing. He kept an interest in the political changes taking place and handled increasing age and infirmity with courage and dignity.

“He will be sadly missed by his family and friends and is survived by his children, Katherine and Stephen.”