There was no mistaking when Richard “Dick” Christiansen arrived somewhere. Those that knew him said his loud, friendly voice usually preceded him.
“You knew that Dick was in the room,” said Giuseppe Gatta, owner of the Lighthouse restaurant and a friend of Mr. Christiansen. “Dick was louder than the dynamite he was using at the quarry.”
The owner of an East End quarry for many years, Mr. Christiansen died Friday at Health City Cayman Islands, shortly after falling at his home in Breakers. He was 88.
If Mr. Christiansen’s voice was big, Mr. Gatta said, his heart was bigger.
The restaurateur said Mr. Christiansen was known for his generosity. He regularly helped people who were down on their luck or who needed a little extra help.
He saw the quarry owner give money to families whose children needed computers, and to people who could not afford to fix their broken-down cars.
“Some people were genuine in asking him for things and some people took advantage,” Mr. Gatta said. “Dick knew, but it was just the way he was. He was a man with a big heart in every direction.”
Paul Allan said he met Mr. Christiansen shortly after arriving in Cayman in 1990. In 1996, Mr. Allan was opening the Bed restaurant and ran into a work permit issue that necessitated leaving the island.
“I couldn’t get a flight out,” said Mr. Allan, who now lives in France. “He lent me his plane to go over to Miami.”
Mr. Christiansen, who for years almost always had his Pomeranian with him, was known for his love of animals. He helped raise funds for the Humane Society and PAWS.
Mr. Gatta, whose home is just across the road from where Mr. Christiansen lived, said his friend always had dogs and cats, as well as some other pets. At one point, he took in a goose that did not have a home.
“He said, ‘Giuseppe, you have to come and see this goose,’” Mr. Gatta said. “He would sit in his armchair and the goose would sit down next to him. When he got up, it followed him everywhere. The goose ended up living in the house.”
Mr. Christiansen’s philanthropy also touched the art community. In 1997, he donated a 1,200-square-foot office in Alexander Place, as well as operational funding, to get the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands off the ground. Gallery director Natalie Urquhart said officials were saddened to hear Mr. Christiansen had died.
“[He] was integral to the formative years of the National Gallery as founding member of the gallery and generous donor,” she said in a statement. “Without his support, we’d wouldn’t be where we are today and we will be forever grateful.” Filmmaker Frank E. Flowers said he has been gathering material on Mr. Christiansen for more than 20 years.
“He was probably the biggest character that most people ever met,” Mr. Flowers said of the Teaneck, New Jersey native, who had worked quarries on other Caribbean islands before coming to Cayman to take the reins of Quarry Products, Ltd., in 1982. “He could be cussing one moment and then turn around the next moment with a huge smile and a compliment. He was the craziest character alive, in a good way.”
Mr. Christiansen was an explosives expert, he said, so much so that he reportedly once freed a cow that had become stuck in an East End ravine by blowing it out with a charge. The story goes that the cow broke a leg in the process, but was otherwise unharmed, he said.
“He was a legend of a man,” Mr. Flowers said.
An official cause of death has not been released, but Mr. Flowers said Mr. Christiansen had suffered several heart attacks in the last few years. Doctors had inserted some stents, but Mr. Christiansen did his best to ignore the problem. Mr. Flowers said he was filming Mr. Christiansen recently when he suffered chest pain while on camera.
“I said, ‘You need to go to the hospital,’” Mr. Flowers said. Instead, he said Mr. Christiansen uttered an expletive and said, “Let’s just go to Popeye’s.”
Even when he was hospitalized last week, Mr. Gatta said, Mr. Christiansen seemed unconcerned. Mr. Gatta spoke with him on Thursday, having just returned to Cayman. He said he and his wife said they would come to visit him.
“He said, ‘Don’t bother. I’ll be out tomorrow,’” Mr. Gatta said. “He died the next day.”
His friends, Mr. Gatta said, will not soon forget the big man’s presence.
“He lived a very good life,” he said. “He had a big heart. Big heart.”