Robert Riggs, former Redmond School District superintendent, whose later tenure as Redmond’s mayor was the city’s longest, died Feb. 27 of complications from Lewy Body Disease, a neurological disorder. He was 79.
Known as Bob to friends and family, Riggs was remembered as a passionate community booster and dedicated educator.
“When Bob was mayor, he was mayor 100 percent. He gave it his all,” recalled Jane Schroeder, former city councilor. “He wanted a better Redmond; that was a big driver behind what he did.”
Riggs, who is survived by his wife, Gloria of Redmond; son, Doug Riggs of Tigard; and his daughter, Stephanie Parker of Redmond, grew up in Salem. His great-grandparents came to Oregon in 1850 in the proverbial covered wagon, according to Doug Riggs. Riggs and his future wife, Virginia, attended Seattle Pacific University. In 1956, Riggs and his debate partner won the National Collegiate Debate Championships, beating out teams from Harvard and Yale.
“That says a lot about my dad,” Doug Riggs said. “He was very thoughtful and well-spoken. I never saw him lose his temper.”
Language was Bob Riggs’ first love. Early in their marriage, the Riggses spent a year in France, where locals thought Bob was Frenchman with a slightly odd manner of speaking. It was Riggs’ position as administrator of the foreign language program for a Puget Sound-area school district that brought him to Redmond. When the Boeing-dependent economy fell on hard times in 1970, his program was eliminated and Riggs took a job as principal of Redmond High School in its new location west of the Dry Canyon.
“Talking to Bob was kind of like talking to your principal,” recalled Alan Unger.
“He listened very carefully to what you had to say, smiled a lot, then told you what he thought.”
Riggs facilitated Unger’s foray into government by appointing him to the Redmond Planning Commission. Today, Unger is a Deschutes County commissioner.
“Bob helped me understand the importance of a bigger view on how to tackle a problem,” he said.
Riggs was appointed interim superintendent of Redmond schools in 1975 but left after less than a year to dedicate time to his new business developing and marketing educational listening skills program to schools, said his son. Riggs owned the Oregon Teaching Center for more than 30 years.
He started his path to local government with an appointment as chairman of the Redmond Sewer Committee in the 1970s, a humble yet important role, as the city was transitioning from septic systems. Riggs ran for City Council in 1979 and was appointed mayor in 1984, when then-Mayor Sam Johnson died suddenly. He served as mayor until 1993.
“Bob had a great sense of humor that really came in handy sometimes,” recalled Schroeder. “He was very supportive of private citizens and gave credit where credit was due.”
Giving up 80-hour work weeks, Riggs traveled with his wife, ran his business and took care of the small family’s rural property in the Dry Canyon.
Doug Riggs and Unger both think Redmond’s signature open space, the Dry Canyon park system, is one of Bob Riggs’ biggest legacies. When one landowner hoping to develop his canyon property took it upon himself to start filling the site with loads of rocks and dirt, it was Riggs who drove down there and stood in front of the farmer’s backhoe until it stopped, said Unger.
“Bob was more than just a policy guy,” he said.
The decision to move to Redmond was not an easy one, but both Riggs and his wife, Virginia, felt strongly it was the right place to raise children.
“Redmond in 1970 was like the rest of the world in 1950, but we loved it,” Doug Riggs said. Virginia Riggs, a cellist, went on to become on to become the longest-running member of the Central Oregon Symphony. She died in 2009. Bob Riggs was director of the choir at Redmond Presbyterian Church, where his family were lifetime members. Three years ago Riggs married again and Gloria Riggs has been a supportive and wonderful addition to the family, said Doug Riggs.
“Dad had a view of the city as a complete community. He had a very broad vision of what it could look like,” said Doug Riggs. “He was calm and thoughtful in everything he did, really taking his time to get it right. We were always 10 minutes late for church.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated. The original article did not include all surviving family members. The Bulletin regrets the omission.