Tim Richards, owner of Orchard Hills Athletic Club, Lancaster, MA, died on Jan. 4. He was 69.

Richards founded Orchard Hills in 1983. He was one of the founding directors of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), which is the association for for-profit health clubs. He received the Dale S. Dibble Distinguished Service Award from IHRSA in 1989.

“He was an early leader of IHRSA and a major proponent of industry research, especially the financial benchmarks that help club operators and owners to better understand industry metrics,” Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, says.

Richards helped IHRSA develop its annual industry survey, now called “Profiles of Success,” which reports operating data so club owners can measure their performance against industry standards.

Cindy Curley, general manager at Orchard Hills, had worked for Richards for 26 years. She called him a visionary who took a six-court club and turned it into the largest multipurpose fitness facility in their area.

“He enjoyed the industry,” she says. “He thought it was great that we were in a business that helped people.”

Caro says that Richards created a leading-edge business with devoted staff over many years, but he also became a community leader, one who made a difference with a variety of needy local segments.

During the last few years, Richards had left much of the club’s operations to his staff, focusing instead on community activities, Curley says.

“He was a great hands-off manager,” she says. “Very supportive of their roles. Just a great mentor.”

Richards’ involvement in the Fitchburg, MA, community included founding the North Central Mass Boys & Girls Club. He also was a former trustee of the Community Foundation of North Central Mass and Fitchburg Art Museums, and a former director for both the North Central Mass Chamber of Commerce and the Fay Club in Fitchburg.

“He was compassionate, caring, patient and persistent,” Curley says. “He always wanted to know what Orchard Hills could do for a staff person in need or a member of the community.”

His community work led to him receiving several awards: the Philanthropist of Distinction Award by the Association of Fund Raising Professionals on North Central Mass, the President’s Award from Fitchburg State College, the Service Above Self Award from Mount Wachusett Community College, the Nashua Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award and the Ginny’s Guardian Angel Award.

Despite those awards, Richards always took great interest in his staff, too, Curley says. In particular, he enjoyed hearing where the children of his staff members were going to college.

According to his obituary, Richards enjoyed hiking, astronomy and tennis. He ran his first marathon at the age of 57.

In 2007, Richards and his wife, Sheila, were featured in a story about being fit after 50 that ran in their local newspaper, The Telegram & Gazette.

Richards’ death was unexpected, and the family is not releasing the cause of death. He is survived by his wife, four children and six grandchildren.

Richards was majority owner of the club, and he had structured the company so that it could continue to operate with the same management team when he was gone, Curley says.