Barbara Riley, 'a force of nature with a huge heart,' dies

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One of the area's most beloved former residents has died.

Barbara Riley died Wednesday in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, her daughter Anna Nicholson confirmed Friday.

Very few details were immediately available, including funeral arrangements.

An in-demand interior designer, she owned the Barbara Levin Interiors design firm in New York City and was featured in Architectural Digest.

She married Gerald Levin, the former CEO of AOL-Time Warner, in 1970 and the couple kept a home in Dorset for about three decades before divorcing in 2003. She later moved to Stockbridge.

Riley, whose name adorns such iconic buildings as Riley Rink, the Riley Center for the Arts, the Northshire Day School, the Dorset theater, and other local organizations big and small.

She underwrote a series of big-name concerts in the early 2000s including acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy, Ray Charles, Ringo Starr and Willy Nelson among others.

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Former Manchester legislator and blues musician Bob Stannard said Riley did a lot for the community and they connected over music.

"She just really, really loved music," Stannard said.

She also loved the theater.

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John Nassivera, who was a co-founder at Dorset Theatre Festival, posted on Facebook that Riley had helped with the restoration of the aging playhouse in Dorset.

"Without Barbara Riley the Dorset Playhouse wouldn't have been restored," Nassivera wrote.

Susanne Dickmann, who lived in Manchester at the time but now lives in Germany, said the pair bonded after she gave Riley a golden retriever puppy.

A mutual friend had connected the two when her goldens had a litter and Dickmann decided to give a male puppy to Riley to honor her for all she had done for the community.

She ended up naming the puppy "Riley," not after herself but the skating rink she loved so much and it became the unofficial mascot of Riley Rink for many years.

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"What a special lady, a true force of nature with a huge heart," Dickmann said.

Stannard said that the big-ticket donations overshadowed the many smaller contributions she made.

"What she did for this community — Manchester and Dorset — most of it we can see, but there was so much other stuff, under the radar, that she did," Stannard said.

Riley is survived by her daughter, Anna Nicholson and husband Peter and children of Manchester.

When reached by phone Friday in Stockbridge, Nicholson was distraught.

"I'm probably going to need the strength of our community to get through this," Nicholson said.

Contact Darren Marcy at or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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