Lawrence Eagle-Tribune story
from Friday, November 20, 2009
Two die in Reading
motorcycle accident; Ex-E-T columnist's daughter a victim
By Gretchen M. Putnam
READING — She was known to thousands of readers as "PJ," the
beautiful, copper-haired girl who was the subject of many humorous
and poignant columns written by her mother, former Eagle-Tribune
reporter Penny Morang Richards.
Late yesterday morning, 25-year-old Penney Jean "PJ" Richards of
North Reading died in a motorcycle crash in neighboring Reading. Her
mother said she was a passenger on the motorcycle, which collided
with a pickup truck. She said she was told that her daughter and the
driver of the motorcycle, a 32-year-old male, were killed instantly.
She said her daughter, who lived with her in North Reading, was
leaving the funeral of a friend who had died in a car accident last
Almost 12 hours after the accident, Reading police last night
refused to even confirm that anyone died in the accident at what
neighbors described is a dangerous intersection at Lowell and High
Reading police declined to identify the victims or the driver of the
green-and-silver pickup truck, or if the pickup truck driver was
"All I was instructed to say is that there was a serious accident,"
the sergeant in charge of the Reading police station said. He said
his superiors would not call after 9 p.m.
But a spokesman for Middlesex County District Attorney Gerald Leone
confirmed last night it was a double fatality.
A state police spokesman last night said that at 10:09 a.m.
yesterday, Reading police requested an accident reconstruction and
analysis team. The intersection is in a residential neighborhood not
far from the center of town. Lowell Street (Route 129) is a main
drag that leads to Interstate 93.
As neighbors gathered they could see the helmets worn by the
victims. Someone left a bouquet of flowers at the accident scene.
"She was beautiful, happy, had wonderful friends, and she had a job
that she had passion for," Penny Morang Richards said of her only
child. "I can't imagine a parent wanting much more for their child."
Penney Jean Richards worked as a medical assistant after graduating
from North Reading High School in 2001. She worked in a private
practice, but a few months ago joined the oncology department at the
new Massachusetts General Clinic in Danvers.
It was her mother's winning fight with breast cancer which led
Penney to a career in oncology. She and her mother were to drive to
Maine today to look at a college where she could pursue her studies
in radiation therapy.
"When I was sick, she walked the walk with me and it pushed her into
the oncology area," Penny Morang Richards said. "And she loved her
job. She woke up every morning happy to go to work."
Penny Morang Richards recently released a book about her fight with
breast cancer called "My Breast Cancer Sally." It's a collection of
entries from a blog she created when she was diagnosed with the
disease in 2007. It chronicles her fight, from her diagnosis to
radiation to chemotherapy to being declared cancer free. It also
chronicles her concerns and gratitude for her husband, Dave, and
Penney's support. It talks of a journey — or a "sally" — the three
would take together.
"Dave and PJ are my two primary concerns. They will be the ones who
have to live with me and this every day," she wrote in her book.
Many might remember Penny Morang Richards' columns, which appeared
in The Eagle-Tribune. She left the Tribune in 2001, just as Penney
was graduating high school.
Young Penney grew up in the newsroom. A confident young woman,
Penney would tag along with her mother to assignments or hang out in
the newsroom while her mom would type away. She was often the focus
of her mother's column.
Penny Morang Richards wrote of her pride when Penney became the
mother of an egg named "Timothy" for a class project and she took
pictures of her grand-egg and sent them to relatives. In another,
she wrote a comparison between the extravagant menu being served at
the Academy Awards for dinner with the meatloaf Penney was getting
before they watched it together on TV.
"I have been thinking about that Oscar night menu, the glitz and the
glamour, the beautiful people in their Armani, Vera Wang, Versace,
Dior and Halston," she wrote. "The meatloaf and cookies, scruffy
slippers and sweats by Jerzee and the 19-inch image on the
television screen were just fine for me. My redhead was the
prettiest person I saw all evening."
But the most poignant columns of all dealt with a teenage Penney
having to deal with the death of a young friend and the funeral she
"The letting go I did today cannot compare to the letting go that
another mother had to endure. She buried her child," Penny Morang
Richards wrote. "All I could do was watch my child lean on her
friends to endure her own hurt. Nothing I can do or say will heal
any of the pain. I can only stand by and stay focused enough to
realize that it is another one of those moments, a time to let go."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of press time.
"She was very, very happy," Penny Morang Richards said of her
daughter. "She was in a great place and going places. I can't
imagine what it will be like not having her here."