It could be argued that Richard “Pops” Christensen was a top contender for the title “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” While some people knew him as a professional, others saw him as a skilled mechanic and welder who loved the outdoors and any opportunity to fish, hunt or ride his FJR.
Although Pops passed gently in his sleep on Aug. 6, 2018, he lived his life with a vigor and enthusiasm that was stunning to behold.
Richard was born in Boston in 1949, but spent the majority of his youth in Southern California. Growing up he became an Eagle Scout, played football and baseball, surfed, scubaed, boated, biked and motorcycled. He and other young men of his generation weren’t faced with a carefree high school experience: the specter of Vietnam overshadowed every decision they made. Richard chose to enter the Coast Guard and made an early choice to concentrate on a Reserve commitment throughout his adult life.
A true mustang, he worked his way up from fireman’s apprentice to Commander and retired with honors after almost 30 years of service.
His favorite assignment was as reserve commander of Group Monterey.
Although he was awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal for distinguished service, two other achievements stand out to his family as emblematic of his on-going concern for his troops and underprivileged youth.
He created a T-shirt fundraiser to help with medical expenses for local Reserve Coast Guardsmen returning from the first Gulf War, and established an annual Christmas party for children who attended a local Boys and Girls Club.
Richard earned a B.S. from the University of Redlands and an M.A. in industrial technology from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. For 20 years ‘Mr. C.’ taught auto shop in Santa Maria, Calif.
He had an open shop policy that let students work on their own vehicles in class, thus saving many families money. He was well remembered for his chorizo and egg breakfasts where both students and staff would gather in the shop while he manned the grill.
He was also remembered for a wicked sense of humor with the most infamous incident involving the filling of a peer teacher’s storeroom with hundreds of pounds of coleslaw mix that he had obtained from a local food processor.
Eventually, the leadership skills he had honed with the Coast Guard took over, and he became a school administrator.
While working positions as varied as a continuation school principal, a school district superintendent and a top administrator with a community college, he found time to complete an EdD from the University of Southern California.
After earning his degree, he was never shy about betting any other college football fan that the Trojans would continue as winners.
While working his way up the ladder in both the Coast Guard and various school districts, he also found time to continue to develop new interests.
He could tackle any engine, fell a tree, carve that tree into an amazing creation, crab, craft gorgeous tables, boat, keep bees, blow glass, sharpen knives, design mechanical devices … all while helping you to write a personal resume that would get you that elusive job you always wanted.
He loved to travel and made exploring British Columbia, Baja California, Kenya, Alaska and Europe with his family a top priority.
He also provided meticulous ride reports to his friends on the FJR Forum and often enjoyed road trips with his buddies.
After almost 40 years of work, Richard retired to Whidbey Island.
His home resembled a tiny park, with a large meadow surrounded by towering trees. He could often be seen holding court near his barn, sipping coffee, while helping various neighbors on a mechanical or welding repair project.
Richard met his wife Susan at the University of Redlands. They had been together for almost 49 years. During their last trip to Scotland, they renewed their wedding vows in the same church his ancestors had attended.
In addition to Susan, he leaves his daughter Karen and her spouse, Jessi; son David and his spouse, Kristina; and to paraphrase him, “…the three smartest, handsomest and most talented grandkids ever created,” Wyatt, Elinor and Warren.
The two most enduring characteristics his family treasures and emulates are his code of ethics and his lifelong love of learning. Pops was the most honorable man any of us ever encountered: his word was indeed his bond. He set high standards for himself and encouraged others to try and be the best they could be. He taught us to never waiver from a challenge and to persist in learning new skills.
The family will plan a celebration of life to be scheduled sometime next spring.
Family suggests memorials or donations may be sent to either the American Heart Association or the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Fund.
Arrangements entrusted to Wallin Funeral Home, Oak Harbor, WA. Please visit Pops’ page in the Book of Memories online at www.wallinfuneralhome.com to share memories and leave condolences.