It’s a quirk. Instead of saying “ideas,” Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay always pronounces the word as “ID-ers.” And anyone who has worked alongside Dick for the past six years he served on Marathon City Council, knows he has plenty of those.
In his three terms, Dick has accomplished plenty: spearheading the Port of Entry status at the Marathon Airport allowing for U.S. Customs functions; creating a local preference ordinance and then amending same to correct fairness issues; pushing for online building permits; creating special wastewater rules for local laundromats; and lowering costs on sewering supplies by creating a co-op of public and private enterprises.
Ramsay will step down in November, having reached his term limit.
“I take this job seriously. And I always answered every call and email I received. I did the best that I knew how to move forward with everyone’s input,” Dick said. “And I always tried not to get a swelled head — thinking that you were better than you were before you were elected.”
Ramsay’s popularity among voters never waned. In 2008, he received 18 percent of the vote and took the dais alongside Ginger Snead and Pete Worthington. In 2010, his share was 26 percent of the vote. In 2012, he was the top vote getter with 27 percent.
In those six years, he’s dealt with every imaginable issue, some small and some large.
“I had this one constituent call me at 11 p.m. at night to complain about some chickens making noise outside her window,” Dick said, chuckling. “I went over the next morning with animal control and straightened it out. Seriously, that’s what happens. You have to serve with a sense of humor. You get a lot more down that way than crying and weeping in the aisles.”
Dick said one of the toughest issues was also the most rewarding. He fought tooth and nail to keep the price of the proposed city hall down when others were advocating for a public building that was much more elaborate. Bids to build the first design came in around $7 million. Sometime later this month, the board will award a construction contract for $4.3 million.
“I think that Dick has accomplished a great deal in his six years on the city council,” said Monroe County Commissioner David Rice, a friend and colleague. “It hasn’t always been easy, but he’s a persistent fellow. Therein lies the secret to his success.”
Dick cautions other would-be candidates that serving on the city council is not a part-time job. He uses up every single second on the 1,600 minutes allotted on his cell phone plan. He prepares carefully for every meeting and also travels to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. He’s proud to say he never missed a meeting — including the one he attended in a wheelchair right after hip surgery.
Despite all those accomplishments, Dick said he’s most proud of having the good sense to marry his wife, Thea, and most grateful that she accepted. He was 18-years-old when they tied the knot and he started his corporate career … sweeping floors. He eventually made it to chairman of the board of a publicly traded company (3D Circuits) before assuming the presidency of another company in a related industry. He retired at the ripe old age of 34 years old and moved to Marathon with his wife, oldest daughter, Beth, and twins, Laura and Rick. After about two years of carousing, he settled down again, purchasing Surfside service station which he owned and operated for about three decades. His interactions with county officials during those years prompted him to join the Incorporate Marathon movement and eventually run for office.
Which is a bit of a family tradition. His son, Rick Ramsay, is the elected Sheriff of Monroe County.
“Honestly, my dad didn’t want me to go into politics. He wanted me to take over the family business but I wanted to be a lawman,” Rick recalls, adding that the family filling station was often the site of impromptu political discussions. “I’ll say this about my dad: He’s a true leader who worked hard to make Marathon a better place for all. It was his goal and his mission, with a lot of self-sacrifice involved.”
When asked about what’s important for Marathon in the next few years, Ramsay Senior pauses.
“I don’t want to give the usual answers like ‘affordable housing,’ so I’ll say this. The most important thing for Marathon is not to forget that we are a family oriented community and we have to hold on to those family values,” he said. “When my kids were young I could make a phone call and five minutes later, I knew where they were. It takes a city to bring up children.”
Dick said he will never run for office again, but that doesn’t mean his life of public service is over. He said he wants to continue to serve on boards and committees. “With my background and knowledge, I think still have plenty to share and ways to help,” he said. “So, I don’t think I’ll ever be retired.”
Real estate broker Brian Schmitt said he believes Dick is one of the best city council members Marathon has ever had. He credits Dick for accomplishing important objectives including replacing the city manager, city attorney and building official.
“He returned the city to serving all of the citizens impartially,” Schmitt said. “Dick has shown courage, patience and diligence in these effots. Unlike other who the voters have turned away in their re-election bids, I believe Dick would be swept back into office if he ever decides to run again.”
Editor Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes small and weird children (she has two); prefers target practice with a zombie rat poster; and looks best with saltwater dreads. Occasionally she tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.