Platform tennis court innovator, outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur Richard “Dick” J. Reilly Jr. died May 14 at his home in Teton County, Idaho, at age 84 due to complications with heart disease. His loving wife of 62 years, Gail (Apgar), cared for him to his final moments.
Mr. Reilly, who was born Sept. 24, 1935 and grew up in Scarsdale and later lived in South Salem, invented the aluminum platform tennis court and as founder of R.J. Reilly Jr. Inc. helped revolutionize the game that was founded in Edgemont in 1928. His myriad engineering improvements enabled outdoor play throughout dark and snowy winters, which led to the sport’s expansion starting in Westchester County in the early 1960s to building courts in 40 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. Mr. Reilly was inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 1974 when he was only 39.
Mr. Reilly graduated from Dartmouth College in 1957 where he rowed crew, played football and pole vaulted for the track and field team. He later attended Columbia University Business School, where he also earned a master’s in public health. Mr. Reilly married his hometown sweetheart, Gail Apgar, and raised their family in South Salem. 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.
With a passion for mentoring young people, Mr. Reilly 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, Connecticut, 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 was in seventh grade.
During a reprieve from the platform tennis court business, Mr. Reilly worked for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York and focused on improving the health and lives of people 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, Wyoming.
Mr. Reilly first 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 a challenge, he taught himself “natural horsemanship” before the horse whisperer was a household phrase. His family said 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.
Mr. Reilly also 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, Mr. Reilly and his wife 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.
Mr. Reilly’s family said his faith in God and strong values were also a huge part of who he was.
Preceded in death by his parents Richard J. Reilly and Helen (Meyn) Reilly, Mr. Reilly is survived by his wife Gail; his four children, Tammy (Dan Newton) of Kalispell, Montana; Jim (Karen) of Darien, Connecticut; Kathy (Mark Gross) of Jackson, Wyoming and Janet (Andy Hawkes) of Boulder, Colorado. He leaves 10 grandchildren: Danielle, Caroline, Bridget, Charlotte, Patrick, Tyler, Kevin, Ali, Bo and Taylor, and three great-grandchildren. He is also predeceased by his sister Norine (Toole) and brother Alby.
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, Idaho 83422 (firstname.lastname@example.org).