In years past, Dick Ramsay could be a curmudgeon. For example, he opposed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary when it was created a quarter century ago and let anyone know who wanted to.
"In his early years, he was a firebrand," Monroe County Commissioner David Rice said. "We could laugh about it over the years but he would come before the County Commission and spend the first five minutes telling us what sons of bitches we were. He changed and could laugh about that."
Indeed, Ramsay later developed a balance of preserving the environment with responsible — not unchecked — growth.
Ramsay, a former Marathon mayor and city councilman, small-business owner and airplane pilot, died Thursday at age 74 at Ryder Trauma Center in Miami following a car crash in Marathon.
The native of Long Island, N.Y., had owned Surfside, a car-repair business near the Vaca Cut Bridge. In retirement, he got active in municipal issues. At the time of his death, he was on the Marathon Planning Commission.
Ramsay served three two-year terms on the City Council and left it after being term-limited out in 2014. Marathon Florida Keys International Airport issues were near and dear to him.
"Dick contributed a huge amount to the city," Rice said. "It was a pleasure working with him on airport projects, from trying to bring in commercial aviation to our new Customs facility," he said, referring to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection international point of entry that opened at the airfield in April.
"It was sad he never had a chance to clear Customs," Rice said.
"Dick was a very great man," Marathon Councilman Dan Zieg said. "He had a lot of good ideas for this city. He had Marathon as the focus of his priorities. He will be greatly missed by everyone, friends and people who did not agree with him."
Among his priorities was working with plumbing contractors to try to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible for residents and businesses to hook up to the city's sewer system. And when he said "sewer," you could really hear that R at the end. It was the New York accent that never went away. When he said "agenda," it sounded like "agender."
"Cuber — he always put an R at the end," Rice recalled.
The Florida Highway Patrol says Ramsay was driving his 2005 Toyota Tundra west on 122nd Street oceanside in Marathon about 7:30 a.m. Thursday when he had a "possible medical episode." The truck drifted into the eastbound lane and into a parking lot, where it struck a concrete sign. He was airlifted to Ryder on the Sheriff's Office TraumaStar helicopter ambulance. He died at 8:02 p.m.
Ramsay is survived by his wife Thea, son Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay of Marathon, daughter Beth Ramsay-Vickery of No Name Key and daughter Laura Gratton of Marathon. Memorial and funeral arrangements are pending.