Ollie Richards

[ Age 72 ] Caterer called her regional cooking "plain and good," and had little use for Martha Stewart's advice.

March 15, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Ollie Richards, who established a catering business after years of cooking in private homes, died of a stroke Monday at Sinai Hospital. The Gwynn Oak resident was 72.

Known for her dishes designed to please the Baltimore palate, she once told a reporter, "Martha Stewart doesn't show me too much."

Born Ollie Odell Moody in Northampton County, N.C., she made $12 a week there in domestic service. She arrived in Baltimore in 1958 to become a dining room server for a Ruxton family.

"I made $30 a week, and I thought I was rich," she told an Evening Sun reporter in 1993, adding that she was soon inspired by Gertrude Jackson, another Carolinian known throughout North Baltimore for her cooking ability. Before long, Mrs. Richards was cooking for a Homeland family, and dinner guests often entered the kitchen to thank her for the meal.

After raising her family, Mrs. Richards went out on her own in 1981 and established Ollie Richards' Personal Catering. She often used her daughters, cousins and friends to help prepare and serve.

"Just mention trendy cooking or exotic dishes and she turns up her nose and waves her hand down dismissively," the 1993 profile said.

For four years she worked out of her home's kitchen, which was not licensed to the standards of a restaurant. She then moved to St. John's Episcopal Church parish house on Greenmount Avenue in Waverly, where she operated with an enlarged kitchen and a restaurant stove that her husband helped install.

"Her list of clients was remarkable," said the Rev. R. Douglas Pitt, the church's former rector. "She was always doing all sorts of kind things for people too, which endeared her to everyone."

In the 1993 article, she described her food as "plain and good" - a creamy crab imperial dip, oyster casserole, soft crabs or shad roe when in season or seafood casserole. She said beef tenderloin was her signature dish and that a Parmesan cheese puff was her favorite hors d'oeuvre.

"She didn't go to culinary school, and she just picked up cooking on her own," said her daughter Patricia Richards of Gwynn Oak. "If she ever used a cookbook, it was for desserts."

Mrs. Richards never advertised her services. She said that nearly all her business came from someone who "had a spoonful of her lemon mousse or a crackerful of her crab dip."

"As far as I know, Ollie never used a contract," said Sheila Riggs, a friend for whom she prepared parties. "One called her, discussed what sort of a party it was to be and it happened."

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road in Randallstown.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Ronald Richards of Baltimore; another daughter, Aretha Watson of Woodlawn; four sisters, Velvet Moody of Baltimore, Inell Squire of Gaston, N.C., Evelyn Davis of Chicago and Fleta DeVaux of Princess Anne; and five grandchildren. Her husband of many years, George Richards, died in 2000.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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