Richard Nicoll, the Bill and Jean Lane Director of Coach and Livestock, is retiring today after serving Colonial Williamsburg for 31 years! Originally from Somerset, England, Richard says he was always happiest when working with horses and carriages.
Richard started working on farms when he was 18, attended agricultural college in England, and continued to try to figure out just what he wanted to do. When he was 21, he came to the United States and began working on farms here—mostly in New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. Opportunities soon started to pop up, and he took advantage of them. Fortunately for us, he found his niche and passion working with carriages and the livestock of Colonial Williamsburg.
Richard told me that among the high points of working here was building up the new facilities, both at the stables and at Bypass Road. When he arrived more than three decades ago, the facilities were poor and the equipment was not up to standard. Richard immediately began working to improve the quality of the pastures, watering devices, stables, and harness equipment. It certainly paid off. Now there are two world-class stables, harness, and a fleet of 18th-century carriages second to none.
But there’s another feather in Richard’s cap. He started the Rare Breeds Program 30 years ago, which has grown to include four rare breeds of chickens, more than 60 Leicester Longwool Sheep, and more than 25 horses. All are from the 1700s and were on the brink of extinction in the United States.
Another high point of Richard’s career was driving the carriage for Queen Elizabeth II when she came to Williamsburg in 2007. Richard grinned slightly as he told me the story. Normally one of the Coach Drivers would drive a VIP, but in this case he said, “That’s my Queen and I get to drive her.”
It probably helped that Richard just happened to have met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip on occasion at Carriage Driving events at Windsor Castle.
Richard was asked to take on another important challenge last fall. After the untimely death of Jay Gaynor, he stepped in as the director of the historic trades department. Of course, in his usual understated manner, Richard told me that it wasn’t too bad—just more papers to sign. He also told me he’d run trade shops in the past and really enjoyed working with the tradespeople.
So what’s next? Richard won’t exactly be going out to pasture! He is already booking events into 2018 as a designer of carriage driving courses at world-class equestrian centers and competition carriage events. He also conducts combined driving clinics around the world.
You see for him, the best part of the job boils down to just one thing: the challenges. He loves solving problems—whether they are policy, mechanical or structural. He also enjoys people and all kinds of animals—horses in particular.
Wondering whether he prefers horses over people? Well, that’s a question you’ll just have to ask Richard yourself if you run into him!
“Everyone knows that Richard put Colonial Williamsburg on the map for its Rare Breeds Program and its remarkable collection of wheeled vehicles. Richard is also a clear thinking and observant leader whose ability to see problems and find practical solutions in invaluable. Colleagues across the institution know that he is always the voice of reason, and the evidence of his sound thinking is all around us.”
-Ronald L. Hurst/ Vice President for Collections, Conservation and Museums
The Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator
“Early in Richard’s career he wore a tie to work every day. That ended after he was helping with sheep shearing and cut a big chunk out of the tie. He continued to work hard throughout his time here but the ties are no longer daily wear.”
-Elaine Shirley/Manager, Rare Breeds Program
“The stables have been through quite a transition in the last 30 years under Richard Nicoll’s reign. Today the new staff could not even imagine what it was like before and what he did for this department.”
-Karen Smith Watson/Supervisor, Stable Operations
“Richard built a program recognized throughout the world, but even more important, Richard has always been a strong advocate for his folks, the animals under his care, and our visitors.”
-William E. White/Royce R. and Katheryn M. Baker Vice President
Productions, Publications and Learning Ventures
“Richard leads through action and example. He works hard and gets his hands dirty. And he always gave me practical advice when I had a problem and needed some help. He has been a wonderful boss, colleague and friend. I will really miss working with him.”
-Garland Wood/Master Carpenter Historic Trades
New Blogger: Karen Gonzalez
Karen is originally from North Carolina. She is a classically-trained musician and lover of all the arts. She and her husband are big Colonial Williamsburg fans, and she still tears up and gets goose-bumps every time the Fifes and Drums play.
Head over to our “Meet the Bloggers” page to learn more. Welcome to the team, Karen!