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Oral History: Interview With Sue Abbe


So many skaters from the golden age of figure skating are sadly no longer with us. I was delighted when Greg Hill reached out to me in the spring of 2024 and offered to donate several interviews he had conducted from 2001 to 2006 while researching a piece on the life of Maribel Vinson Owen. 

Today's blog is an interview conducted with the late Sue Abbe, the sister of U.S. Pairs Skating Champion Dudley Richards, on February 13, 2002. Richards tragically perished in the 1961 Sabena Crash and had personal connections to The Kennedy Family.

When transcribing Hill's handwritten notes, I rearranged the order of Mrs. Abbe's interview at times to keep topics together. 

I think you will agree that this oral history provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of figure skating in the 1950s and 1960s!


[What happened to SalĂ© and Pelletier at the 2002 Olympics] happened to my brother Dudley, too. He'd just won the National Novice, at twelve-years-old. The next year, he had to go up to National Junior. He excelled in the figures. This was out in California. He went out all by himself.... He gets out there, and he's winning the whole thing, and - I forget the guy's name - he'd been trying for five years to win it. He's like eighteen, and here's Dudley, fourteen. So they said, "Oh, we'll give it to this guy." Dudley lost by one tenth of a point. 

Dudley was very good in school figures. In fact, his first Worlds he went to was in Milan, and my mother was on the elevator there when some judge said, "Who's this Richardson boy? He's pretty good!" Mrs. Button said, "Well, here's the mother." The judge said, "Oh! If I knew..." See, here's the politics of it. They can't let a new kid on the block beat Dick Button. I'm glad it's finally coming out [referring to the judging scandals at the 2002 Olympics]. That's one reason why Dudley said he wouldn't turn professional, cause he wanted to be a Worlds or Olympic judge... He wanted to keep his amateur standing. He wanted to straighten out [things] and you know, try to help. [The fact Dudley was on a USFSA Committee was] unusual, to be competing and be on that - I think, if I remember it right.

Dudley Richards


We were kids in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and we had friends that had a place just north of Pawtucket [with a] nice big pond. We'd go up there and skate on the pond on Sunday afternoons. There'd be some other people skating too - girls. You didn't have much ice time in those days, back in the 40s. These girls who happened to be on the pond with us [said] to Dudley, "Gee, you have some talent. Why don't you join the Providence Skating Club?" My folks had him do that.

My father was the manager of an iron foundry, called JS White. It was a family [run business] on my mother's side. My folks didn't actually encourage Dudley. He did it himself. They told him, "Why do you do it?" They wouldn't go along with it. My folks weren't athletic. He went to the Providence Skating Club, but he excelled so quickly. They didn't have any good professional teachers there, so they advised him to go to The Skating Club of Boston. He was around eleven or twelve at this time. Bud Wilson was his first teacher. The problem was, during the war, getting there. You'd have to get there by train. 


Dudley was very laid-back about his competitions in skating. My father told him, "Dudley, no matter who you are, or how good you are, tomorrow you'll be forgotten." He didn't want him to get swell-headed... In those days, the only time the [USFSA] paid [for your travel] was if you won the U.S. [title]. You had to win the whole thing. Now, they pay you. I just read in the paper today [that] anyone who gets a gold medal [gets] $25,000. Isn't that nice?

Dudley Richards


He came to pair with Tenley Albright, because they were just practicing [together] all the time, and they were young and energetic. They tried Easterns [in pairs] and they did singles. They won both and then they tried [moving up]... Then they won Eastern Senior. The next thing is Nationals, then it gets a little complicated. Tenley decided no, she wanted to work more on her own. I don't think Tenley and Dudley were ever romantically involved. She came to the house in Hyannis Port [once]. I mean, maybe a little puppy love. They were too young.


I remember my father buying a boat - a [trawler] - so we could get extra gas, you know, cause of the boat. Our family had a cottage in South Hyannis and the '44 hurricane took it. So then, from there, we decided to move over to Hyannis Port, we rented for a year, and then bought an old house and fixed it up. That's how we got involved with the Kennedys. We were Republicans. Dudley and Teddy ended up rooming together at Harvard. I crewed for Teddy, cause we didn't have enough sailboats. Dudley was a sailor, too. Our oldest brother [Ross] was a sailor [Vice-Commodore of the Yacht Club]. He won that [title]. The Chappaquiddick Regattas - Ross won both of those. He was supposed to go to Teddy's inquest. Ross was the first one to see him get up [to go] swimming in the morning. There's more to it than that. Ross wanted to win the race. He didn't want to go out partying. He was out working early on his boat when Teddy got [in trouble]. Dudley was [usually] only at Hyannis Port in the month of August. He and Teddy were competitors. Ross and Bobby Kennedy were moreso competitive. Bobby was a few years older than Ross. 


[One summer] Dudley broke his neck swimming. It took him five years to come back. It was after sailing [that he injured his neck]. He won the race, probably against Teddy [Kennedy], because they were competitors. [Afterwards] they were horsing around on the pier... and somebody pushed him in. [They] forgot it was low tide. When they started sailing, it was high tide.

Dudley Richards


We were just family-oriented. Dudley was always so busy... He was just congenial. Everybody loved him. He had time for people. He just didn't have to sit, to try and fit everybody in. He was never tutored [in his studies]. I ended up not being a bad sailor cause of Ross. Dudley took a PG at Belmont Hill. He went to Providence Country Day, which is a private school. [Ross was at PCD, then ended up at Tabor] and graduated from it at seventeen [then did a post-graduate at Belmont Hill]. But, with his neck and all, and being... a younger graduate, plus the skating, [Dudley] said, "Well, that'll be nearer than the Skating Club of Boston." While he was at Belmont Hill, they had a sailing team. He was the skipper and he won the Annapolis - a competition of Eastern Prep schools. He represented Belmont Hill. [He went on to Harvard] and graduated in 1954.


After Harvard, when he broke his neck, the doctor told him, "Well, one thing, Dudley, you'll never have to worry, cause the army will never take you." He tried at Harvard to get into [the] Air Force ROTC, and they caught up with him - kicked him out [for a year]. He said, "If I ever get [in], I don't want to go in [as an enlisted man]." Sure enough, he graduated from Harvard in 1954, and the Army takes him. He went to Fort Dix, and then they had him climbing telephone poles. [He was] not supposed to have... any contact because of his neck. So then, he tried to finagle [someone] to get to, you know, entertain the troops. He heard he was going to be sent overseas. He finally finagled it so he ended up skating in Garmisch [at the Casa Carioca nightclub] for two years, entertaining the troops, where he got, I think, like $50 a performance. 

When Dudley was in the army in Garmisch, they taught him how to teach people how to defect, which he did. He showed one or two people how. He said he couldn't be there right at the time, but he made arrangements for them to defect. 

Dudley Richards and Maribel Yerxa Owen Jr. Photo courtesy World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.


[Around the time he was skating with Maribel Yerxa Owen Jr.], we didn't see a lot of him, at that point - but we knew he was getting involved. She was a lot younger [but] there was [a] fire going on there. I sensed it. [In terms of competitive skating] Dudley wasn't going to go any further, and I don't think she would have. She wasn't as good as Laurence.


When John F. Kennedy was running for President, he stopped by The Skating Club of Boston and talked to Dudley, to get votes. Knowing Dudley was Republican, he said he had a little influence. Then, when he was elected President, he invited Dudley down to Hyannis Port to be there on election night. Dudley said, "I just voted for Nixon. I couldn't resist this one, so I went down to Hyannis Port." Dudley also [attended] the opening of a Kennedy rink in Hyannis. He did a lot of charity [work].


Teddy Kennedy wanted Dudley to take a Spanish exam for him. Dudley wouldn't do it, so Teddy got somebody else to do it and got caught. Then he came to Hyannis Port and said, "Please don't tell people, cause it might get out."


Good-looking women went for him! He told me, "Sis, I [meet] all of these beautiful women. You're more natural. You got more smarts than all the rest of 'em!" 

I think maybe the family was thinking he should... you know, do something with his life other than skating. He was twenty-nine. He was kind of private, but I know that he... I know romantically he was... OK, I don't want to tell you.

Photo courtesy "Abbot Bulletin"


[I married John Abbe] in 1958, and moved to Buffalo in 1960. We kind of lost touch. Dudley was close to all those skaters, you know, in his way, not that he'd say to us, because that was his life... Nordblom... he was doing very well [there]. 

[Before the crash], I remember sending him a telegram, which he never got. It was [about] a wedding in Vail. He had been out there, maybe a week before. I was in Buffalo [when I heard about the crash.] My husband was travelling a lot. He'd take off for weeks.  In fact, a friend called me early in the morning. I had to listen to that on the radio for ten hours [while] driving. It was unbelievable. Dudley had tickets for my mother [to attend the Worlds in Prague] but at the last minute, she decided not to go. 

When the airplane crashed, his apartment was robbed because it was in the paper, and the elevator wasn't working. Isn't that awful? They only got a typewriter and a few things. He worked for Honeywell [before he worked at Nordblom]. It was right next to The Skating Club of Boston. He was supposed to be a writer for them. His major at Harvard was history. He wanted to make money. He was doing real well. Norman Woods... was a big hockey player at Harvard. He was big at Nordblom, and he was a friend of Dudley's at Harvard too. Dudley was very good at all sports... sailing, tennis... for what little time he had to spend on them. Eleven months out of the year was [for] skating. Fred Heller - a Harvard classmate - identified Dudley's body from the crash. He was in Europe at the time. Dudley was godfather to their two boys, and they gave him a St. Christopher's Medal, which he wore, and that's how Fred Heller identified Dudley's body [Dudley was Congregational]. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: