Golf was therapy in life lived to fullest

Published May 25, 2007

Thomas Riherd lived a well-rounded life. He had a successful accounting career and a long, happy marriage. He traveled the world and enjoyed an active social life.

But for some 70 years, golf was the centerpiece of Mr. Riherd's existence.

"Oh, that was his passion, " said his wife, Mary Ellen Riherd.

Mr. Riherd, 85, died May 9 from a stroke. He would have celebrated his 59th wedding anniversary this month.

He had long been known to local golfers as one of the best amateur players in the area, and even in the state. He twice won state four-ball championships. He shot his age each year for 20 years, starting when he was 63.

Age and declining health had kept Mr. Riherd from playing much golf in the past couple of years, his wife said. But he still spent most days around golf and golfers.

"We live on a golf course, and there's a tee right in back of our house, " she said. "He'd sit out there and the people would pass by and, of course, he knew most of them, so they'd stop and talk to him. He loved that."

Mr. Riherd was born in Palma Ceia and, except for college and wartime service, lived virtually all his life in the Tampa Bay area.

His father died when he was 7, leaving Mr. Riherd's mother to raise four children by herself during the Depression.

Mr. Riherd attended the University of Florida, where he excelled on the golf team. After college he joined the Navy, where he captained a transport boat that brought Marines into battle in the South Pacific.

He returned to Tampa after the war. At one of his first jobs, he met his future wife, who worked for the same company.

"He said he couldn't work with me, and he wasn't in a position to fire me so he might as well marry me, " Mary Ellen Riherd said. "We were married in 1948."

Mr. Riherd spent most of his career as an accountant with one of the country's latest dental supply companies. The couple's social life revolved largely around the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, where Mr. Riherd was a regular golfer and a board member for many years.

The Riherds have one son, Thomas Jr. The family lived in the West Shore area of Tampa until Mr. Riherd and his wife retired to Sun City Center 20 years ago.

"We moved exactly 33 miles in retirement, " Mary Ellen Riherd said. "It was very nice because we could continue to see our Tampa friends. But we made new friends out here and, of course, most of them were from up north or out west. It added a whole new dimension to our lives."

They spent their retirement years traveling. They visited much of Europe, but some of their favorite trips were around the United States in a recreational vehicle.

"We went to all 48 of the contiguous states, mostly on back roads, " Mary Ellen Riherd said. "We'd be gone three months most of the time."

The only downside to traveling was that Mr. Riherd couldn't play golf quite so often, and when he came back home, his game was a little rusty.

"He was a very serious man, but he had a soft heart, " his wife said. "Golf was his outlet, his therapy. We have been very lucky. We had a long retirement together. A lot of people don't get to do that."

Besides his wife and his son, Mr. Riherd is survived by a grandson and two sisters.