GEORGETOWN – Less than three months after she had given birth to her first child, Elaine Joyce McAleney Richards was diagnosed with polio.

The disease caused paralysis from the neck down, but Mrs. Richards overcame her physical disabilities to lead a full and rewarding life, including being married for more than 59 years, having a second child and devoting countless hours to volunteer work.

Mrs. Richards died Jan. 14 at her home in Georgetown. She was 77. She is survived by her husband, Lou — the couple would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in August — her daughter, Debra Ann Richards Thibodeau of Georgetown, and three grandchildren.

She was predeceased by her first daughter, LuAnn Richards Erickson.

Mrs. Richards was born in Springvale. She attended local schools, graduated from Sanford High School in 1953, then married her high school sweetheart.

Shortly after her first daughter was born, Mrs. Richards visited a friend at a local hospital. A few days later, she became paralyzed from the neck down. Her daughter said doctors suspected she contracted polio at the hospital.

“It was a very contagious disease in Maine, especially in the 1950s. My mother had to learn how to eat and walk all over again,” Thibodeau said.

Mrs. Richards would spend the next year at the Hyde Home in Bath — now the Hyde School — undergoing rehabilitation.

As she grew stronger, she was asked to help care for babies and young children at the home. The only problem was she had to climb a circular staircase to reach the children — an obstacle her daughter points out was part of her mother’s therapy. She would help the children with their therapies, as well as read or sing to the sick children.

Thibodeau said her mother regained her ability to walk, but she could never run or drive a car. She could dance with her husband, though.

Mrs. Richards spent much of her spare time doing volunteer work.

While living in Somersworth, N.H., she packaged fresh vegetables for distribution to needy families. She also helped found the New Hampshire Network Post Polio Support Group.

After moving to Maine five years ago, she filled food baskets for local families in Georgetown, and bought toys to be distributed to children at the Georgetown Community Center.

“That was the type of heart she had,” her daughter said. “As hard as she had it growing up, she always believed in reaching out and giving a hand, because she knew there was always someone more desperate that needed her help.”

In her later years, Mrs. Richards, whose eyesight was growing progressively worse, nonetheless enjoyed the natural beauty of Georgetown.

“She would go to Reid State Park and just sit on the boardwalk. She liked to listen to the surf and listening to the birds. On the brighter, sunnier days she could see the waves,” her daughter said.

Thibodeau built her parents an addition to her home that featured a wheelchair-accessible ramp.

She said her mother was never a burden.

“I consider having her a blessing,” she said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com