Richard J. Reilly Jr.

Richard J. Reilly Jr.

Platform tennis (“paddle”) court innovator, outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur Richard J. (“Dick”) Reilly Jr., 84, passed away from complications of heart disease at his home in Teton County, Idaho. His loving wife of 62 years, Gail (Apgar) cared for him to his final moments.

Inventor of the aluminum platform tennis (“paddle”) court and founder of R.J. Reilly Jr., Inc., Dick revolutionized the game. His myriad engineering improvements enabled outdoor play throughout dark and snowy winters. Dick led the sport’s expansion from Westchester County, N.Y., in the early 1960s, building courts in 40 U.S. states and 16 countries, producing instructional videos, operating platform tennis camps in Montana and Wyoming, and much more, until the sale of his company in 2002. He was inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 1974 when he was only 39. Keene, Dublin and Surry are some of the many places he installed courts.

Dick grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1957, where he rowed crew, played football and pole vaulted for the track team. He later attended Columbia University Business School, where he also earned a master’s degree in public health.

Dick married his hometown sweetheart, Gail Apgar, and raised their family in South Salem, N.Y. The octagonal home he designed and built on a small lake there, complete with a 250-gallon fish tank, circular fireplace and paddle court, provided an idyllic childhood for his children.

His passion for mentoring young people never left him. He revived the Boy Scouts program in northern Westchester, started and coached the local youth football program and revived the football program at nearby Wooster School in Danbury, Conn., where he coached and was the business manager for two years. Way ahead of Title IX, he started a girls tackle football program when his daughter, Kathy Gross, was in 7th grade.

During a reprieve from the platform tennis court business, Dick worked for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York and focused on improving the health and lives of folks in the Appalachian region of Mississippi.

A visionary by nature, another interlude in the 1970s found him as the owner of a beautiful parcel of land at the foot of the Tetons in Wyoming, which included an overbooked KOA campground, the region’s only popular indoor pool, two general stores and gas stations, a fast-food restaurant and pizza parlor. He eventually sold the property and it now houses the renowned National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyo.

Dick brought his daughter, Kathy, and son, Jim, into the paddle business in 1985, enabling them to seek further adventures in the West with Gail in 1989. He brought platform tennis to the northern Rockies with a combination paddle camp and dude ranch near Glacier National Park in Montana. Not one to shy away from, well, anything, Dick taught himself “natural horsemanship” before “Horse Whisperer” was a household word. He happily discarded his tie for a cowboy hat and in addition to playing ranch host, became known for his gentle way with the horses when he wasn’t tending to his prolific flower and vegetable gardens. After the summer dudes left, Dick hosted an annual platform tennis tournament — the Grizzly Affair — and ran a platform tennis camp in the fall, with players coming from all over the country to improve their game with the sport’s top pros.

After 12 years in Montana, Dick and Gail moved the paddle camp to their favorite part of the world, the Tetons. They ran their Jackson Hole instructional enterprise until 2013, leaving many avid paddle players around the country wanting more.

Dick included his four children in his love for the outdoors. He started them as toddlers in the Northeast with hikes up Mounts Washington and Moosilauke, multi-day canoe trips in the Canadian wilderness and camping adventures in the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River. When the youngest was 8, he deemed them ready for backpacking trips in the Tetons. Watching their father stand his ground and call the bluff of a charging bear, and snuggling into backcountry tents while he slept in his snow quinzhee hut are some of many fond recollections. In turn, all of the family attribute their love of Jackson Hole, mountain adventures and the outdoors to their maverick father.

Preceded in death by his parents, Richard J. Reilly and Helen (Meyn) Reilly, he is survived by Gail and his four devoted children, Tammy (Dan Newton) of Kalispell, Mont.; Jim (Karen) of Darien, Conn.; Kathy (Mark Gross) of Surry; and Janet (Andy Hawkes) of Boulder, Colo. He leaves 10 adoring grandchildren, Danielle, Caroline, Bridget, Charlotte, Patrick, Tyler, Kevin, Ali, Bo and Taylor; and three great-grandchildren. He is also preceded in death by his sister, Norine (Toole), and his brother, Alby.

Dick’s sincere interest in the life story of almost everyone he met, his strong faith, desire to share his passions with others and his boyish charm and good looks left a lasting and endearing impression on the many varieties of people he encountered throughout his life. Our world feels a little less colorful without him.

A memorial mass and celebration of life will be announced by his family at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his honor to Jenny Lake Rangers Fund c/o Grand Teton National Park Foundation, P.O. Box 249, Moose WY 83012 (jennylakerangers.org); or Teton Valley Community Animal Shelter, P.O. Box 1507, Driggs ID 83422 (grants@tvshelter.org).