As the son of an international jewel collector and descendent of the Gulden’s mustard family, Dick Ramsay said his childhood, albeit a fanciful one, was filled with extreme financial ups and downs.
In one of his father’s less profitable years, Dick remembers his father combing the basement of their Long Island home for an antique table he knew to be worth a significant amount of money. But due to the work of four mischievous young boys, the table suddenly held little value.
“My brothers and I were hell,” he laughed as he recounted the time they uncovered an old table in their basement and promptly decided to use it for target practice with their new bb gun. “He came down looking for that table, and when he found it, well, let’s just say he was not too happy with us.”
His initial attraction to the Florida Keys was born from his passion for coastal life as a young boy.
“I remember digging for clams in the Great South Bay to make money all through school,” Dick said, adding that his own childhood activities always revolved around his father’s passion for fishing. He remembers fishing the northeastern coast of the United States as a teenager and amassing quite a collection of trophies from area shark tournaments.
Straight out of high school, he chose to forego college and head straight to work for a company called Photo Circuits. As he tells it, he worked his way up from sweeping the floors to serving as chairman of the board for multi-million dollar company called 3-D Circuits.
“When I retired, I was considered one of the world’s foremost experts in circuit boards,” Dick said, adding that his company constructed a photo circuit board that traveled aboard Apollo 11 on the first successful moon mission.
“We built it to their specifications, and it was nearly impossible!” he explained.
But when the Teamsters Union made their way east from New York City and threatened Dick and his family with promises to unionize the company, he decided to bring his family to the safety of small-town Florida.
At only 34 years old, Dick “retired” to the Florida Keys with his wife, Thea, his oldest daughter, Beth, and his twins, Rick and Laura.
He first found the Keys on early childhood vacations with his family but chose Marathon because of the hospitable, family-oriented amenities available in the Middle Keys.
“The first year you’re down here,” he explained with a hint of native accent, “you’re fishing every day and drinking every day. After a while, my wife told me I was going to have to get a job or get a new wife.”
The Surfside service station in Marathon Shores was up for sale, and Dick admitted that before beginning the second chapter in his professional career, he knew little about auto mechanics.
“Prior to buying a service station, the only thing I knew about cars was that when something was wrong with mine, the repairman would come to my house and leave his car while he took mine back to his shop for repairs,” he laughed. “A lot of people said I’d never survive.”
As the City of Marathon gears up for its 10-Year Celebration this weekend, Ramsay remembered how a visit from Monroe County’s code enforcement office to his service station set the wheels in motion for his role in the city’s incorporation.
“Why did we incorporate?” he repeated. “Well, we got tired of winding up on the short end of the stick, whether it regarded funding from the county or even talking to our elected officials.”
He and a handful of local business owners got together and crafted banners that read “Welcome to the Future… City of Marathon.”
“We were being brow-beat by code enforcement that told us to take the signs down,” Dick said, remembering the day he was instructed to take down his banner. He promptly responded by telling the code enforcement officer to “drop dead.”
Besides developing a master plan for the new city, those in favor of incorporation had several hurdles to clear before their dreams could be realized. One major hurdle included legislative approval from Tallahassee.
Looking toward the next ten years, Dick said he hopes that with progress, Marathon’s still able to remain a small community with the top quality of life that drew him here 35 years ago.
“My wish is that we not forget why we all moved here,” he said. “On that note, I hope everybody’s able to remain here.”