Betty Secunda Rich of Richmond passed away peacefully at home on April 25th, with her family by her side.
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A native of Pittsfield, she lived her entire life in Berkshire County. Betty was born in 1928 to Isador and Sadie Berman Secunda. She graduated from Pittsfield High School in1946 and from Bennington College, where she majored in music, in 1950. A violinist since childhood, she played throughout much of her life, though not without interruptions. In 1950 she married Paul N. Rich, with whom she had four sons: Tom (Pamela), Matthew, Andrew, and Joseph (Harry Paynter). She was pre-deceased by her husband, her son Matthew, and her brothers Albert and Daniel Secunda.
Once her children were in school, Betty began teaching music education at Berkshire Country Day School, at the Pittsfield Music School, and in the Williamstown school system, introducing the Carl Orff method to the region. Her dedication to music education was such that even in her seventies she would arrive at Pittsfield High School at 6:15 am to play with the PHS string orchestra, alongside her brother Daniel, a cellist, and her grandson Harry, who was studying the violin.
For a time she was a stalwart member of the Berkshire Symphony in Williamstown, and once, having taken a sabbatical from the orchestra, she received a note from Julius Hegyi, the group’s conductor, begging her to return. “Anyone who plays the violin as beautifully as you do,” he wrote, “should not stick the fiddle ‘under the bed.’ We need you, have always needed you, and missed you when you left.” Coming from the notoriously demanding maestro, this was especially high praise, and she returned for many more years.
Her time was not occupied solely by music and family life. In the 1970’s she began to manage and develop her family’s real estate, the Dunham building and 122 North Street (now home to Barrington Stage), which she renamed The Galleria. The project, which created a collection of shops in a space once occupied by a large department store, was innovative at the time. It was also an enormous undertaking that required her to learn about design, construction, mechanical systems, and many other topics that she had no experience in. She also had to learn to hold her own in a world dominated by men and was the rare woman to do so at the time.
With retail in her blood and a fierce devotion to maintaining North Street as the beating heart of Pittsfield—The Berkshire Eagle once dubbed her “a knight on North Street”—she joined her husband and son Tom to open Paul Rich and Sons Home Furnishings in 1983. She contributed to nearly every aspect of the business and was instrumental in helping it grow and thrive. Starting a new business at the age of 55 didn’t faze her, and she was still signing checks in her late eighties.
Over the last 24 years, nothing gave her more pleasure than her three grandsons, Harry, Jackson, and Gabe Rich. When Harry turned five she drove him to his weekly violin lessons until he learned to drive. She eagerly went to all three grandsons’ soccer and basketball games well into her late eighties, and she tried never to miss a recital, grandparents’ day, graduation, or awards ceremony.
In addition to her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, Betty is survived by her sister, Marion Poliakoff, of Vancouver, British Columbia, her nieces, and a nephew.
Services will take place at 1 o’clock on Monday, April 29th, at Congregation Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road, in Pittsfield. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Berkshire Children & Families Kids 4 Harmony or Hospice Care of the Berkshires.