December 18, 2013

Richard Benjamin Chess, Jr.

March 3, 1935 - 

December 9, 2013

At ease Marine, you have served well...

Richard Chess was quite literally a gentleman and a scholar.  Born to Richard Benjamin Chess, Sr. and Teresa Marchio Chess in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, his early years were a happy chronicle of life in small town America.  He bought his first car, a two-cylinder Crossley convertible, when he was 12 with money earned from his paper route.  In his first outing, he drove the car into the back of the Waynesburg movie theatre.  His driving improved, at 16 he and a friend set out to drive to California.  The Crossley gave out somewhere in Oklahoma, but was never to be forgotten.

The family moved to Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb, when Dick entered high school. He excelled in academics, drama and sports, caddying at Helmsdale Country Club inaugurating his life-long love of golf.

Dick  attended  Miami of Ohio University for two years and then graduated from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts on an NROTC scholarship in 1957.  Upon graduation he married Cynthia Hooper and joined the Marine Corps.

Dick’s three years in the Marine Corps were a hugely influential part of his life.  His Basic Training Class of 1957 was evidently a rowdy bunch, but it produced two three-star generals and a Marine Corps Commandant. Dick attained the rank of First Lieutenant.

After the Marines, Dick enrolled in George Washington University Law School.  His first job was in Bobby Kennedy’s Department of Justice.  As Dick described it, “All hell was breaking loose in the Civil Rights Division.” He was sent to Mississippi to work on voter registration cases. Because of his Marine Corps training, Dick was then assigned as one of the Federal officers to escort James Meredith as he integrated the University of Mississippi. Dick recalled, “There were two Justice Department attorneys on either side of Mr. Meredith; two Federal Marshals, behind him.  On the streets on either side were two military vehicles carrying armed soldiers.  This is how we accompanied him to class, to the dormitory, to the Student Union, wherever he went.”

Dick practiced law in Fairfax, Virginia, for 25 years, but he also loved golf and tennis.  During the winter months he would take an annual trek to play golf in warmer climes with an infamous group of D.C. businessmen known as the Bat-AC.

His tennis also was affected by the winter weather and so he went into real estate to build indoor tennis facilities at half a dozen locations in the Washington, D.C. area.

In 1980, Dick came to Southern California with his second wife, Martha Benton, to pursue other real estate activities.  His parents and his brothers, dentists Tom and Ron Chess and their families, were already in residence here.

Dick moved to Ventura and practiced real estate with Don Carlton.  In 1987, he met Betsy Blanchard.  They were married on Christmas Eve, 1987, and the next day left for a honeymoon in Paris accompanied by six of their best-friend couples! Dick and Betsy lived a wonderful life of friends, family, tennis, golf, travel and involvement in the community for almost 26 years.

Dick missed practicing law and in 1992 took the California Bar, noting that it had been 27 years since he had taken the Virginia Bar. Needless to say, he passed.  Although his background was in real estate and commercial law, Dick found his true calling as a mediator.  He worked with Pepperdine’s then nascent mediation program and was one of the founders of the Ventura Center for Dispute Resolution with which he was active until the end of his life.

Dick was president of the former Ventura County Symphony, the first president of Turning Point Foundation, former chairman of the Harbor Commission for the City of Ventura, a former member of the Ventura County Rent Review Board and former board member of Saticoy Country Club. Dick and Betsy supported each other in all they did, although he was a bit non-plussed when Betsy returned to competitive horseback riding a decade ago, horses never being his thing! They also valued their membership in the Church of the Foothills.

Dick perfectly fit the definition of a Virginia Gentleman. Tall, handsome, effortlessly gracious and elegant he was a man of few words, but each was measured and worth listening to.  He loved playing gin rummy and bridge with his buddies at Saticoy Country Club, charming the ladies and entertaining with Betsy in the home they built overlooking the ocean in Ventura where he forever will be remembered for mixing his famous green apple martinis.

Dick Chess is survived by his wife, Betsy; son Dana Chess of Hagerstown, MD, daughter Susan Tabler (husband Lee and daughters Cynthia and Juliana) of Dubai, United Arab Emirates; son Taylor Chess (wife Charlotte and children Connor, Catie, Phoebe and Bennett) of Fairfax, VA; stepdaughter Devon Cichoski (husband Vince) of Santa Paula, CA; brother Dr. Tom Chess (wife Carol) of South Pasadena, CA, brother Dr. Ron Chess (wife Gloria) of Camarillo, CA; brothers-in-law John Blanchard (wife Kai) of Camarillo, CA, Jim Blanchard (wife Rhonda) of Chico, CA and numerous loving nieces and nephews.

Dick had been felled by a stroke on October 3rd and he fought valiantly.  His end was peaceful, surrounded by a loving circle of family who wished him Godspeed as he embarked on his next great Journey. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Turning Point Foundation, New West Symphony, Ventura Music Festival or a charity of your choice.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, February 1, 2014, 2:00 pm at the Church of the Foothills in Ventura followed by a reception at Saticoy Country Club.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Ted Mayr Funeral Home, 3150 Loma Vista Road, Ventura. Condolences may be left at

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