Richard Gamble, a scrupulous Stinson Beach retiree who served on a number of regional nonprofit boards, died from a heart attack in his home on November 29, at the age of 81. He collapsed on the way to bed, said his friend and former priest, Father Jack O’Neill.
“I think it’s a real tribute to the guy to have died basically going out the front door to help someone else,” O’Neill said, explaining that Richard was scheduled to rise early the next morning to direct a benefit party for one of his associations.. “What a spirit of giving. It was never about Richard, you know, but instead always about how Richard could help others.”
Father Honesto Giles, who presides over St. Mary Magdalene Church, in Bolinas, of which Richard was a longtime and devout member, echoed the sentiment. “Personally, I always referred to Richard as the ‘Gentle Big Man,’” Giles said.
Richard Francis Gamble was born on January 1, 1930 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second and last son of Howard E. and Mary Carman Gamble. He was a quiet, thoughtful child—two qualities that would last him his entire life. His cousin, Beverly Gilmore, recalled Richard finding an arrowhead one summer while vacationing at her family’s cabin near June Lake in the late 1930s. He kept the artifact for decades, she said, and passed it on to her a few years ago.
Richard attended Boston University, where he met and courted Joan Rourke, a Brandeis undergraduate. The two were married in California in 1952, and eventually relocated to Sitka, Alaska, where Richard was stationed with the United States Coast Guard. Though they lived there only a few years—they moved first to Pasadena and then San Francisco in 1962—Richard spoke often and fondly of the rugged, picturesque Alaskan terrain.
After retiring from the Coast Guard, Richard worked as a salesman at several companies before retiring permanently with Joan in Stinson Beach. Their house, though modest, was always well kept. “There was never clutter or junk sitting around,” Gilmore said. “Richard was certainly a minimalist.” O’Neill likened him to a courteous Wal-Mart greeter: “very efficient, well dressed, well groomed.”
He was also a supportive and doting uncle. “He and my dad really connected and used to talk by phone and in person when Richard was a young man—whenever he had a job opportunity he’d always run it past my father,” Gilmore said. “Later on, he reacted to his nieces and nephews with similar openness.”
One nephew, U.S. Army General W. Bryan Gamble, called Richard “an anchor” who was always willing to listen with sincerity and offer the sort of “mentoring you can really take to the bank.” Richard was always sending him books. “The recent one that comes to mind is Three Cups of Tea,” he said. The book, about education in Afghanistan, proved helpful for Gamble while deployed in the Middle East in recent years.
Richard and Joan relished the opportunity to host Gamble’s four sons. “They would always have the kayaks out there, ready to go,” he said.
Outside of books, Richard had few hobbies, though Gilmore said he enjoyed sailing and, on occasion, hunting birds with her husband, with whom he was close. “Even though he was family we considered him a friend,” she said. “Richard was just a person you could rely on if you needed anything—advice, a bottle of wine, anything.”
In 1997, the two couples began traveling together, first to England and France and later to several other countries via cruise ship. Another couple, Bruce and Ila MacPhee, whom Richard and Joan knew from San Francisco, often accompanied the four. “Richard loved to act as a tour guide,” Gilmore said. “If he knew something he liked to share it, but never in a pretentious way.”
Richard’s commitment to community service grew in his later years. He served as a board member for the Stinson Beach County Water District, the Seadrift Association and West Marin Senior Services, and as commissioner of the Marin County Free Library. He was also involved in a number of committees at his church. “Any time you asked Richard to do something he would always be happy to get involved,” O’Neill said. “Roof repairs, toys for kids, money to be raised—he was there checking all the numbers.”
Perhaps most admirable, O’Neill added, was Richard’s ability to listen compassionately. “Richard was very even keeled, always on topic,” he said. “He knew he had two ears and one mouth, and always listened with intent. The kind of guy that was a true friend.” — Jeremy Blackman
Richard is preceded by his wife, Joan Rourke Gamble, and survived by his cousin Beverly Carman Gilmore; nieces Carol Gamble Sudgen, Susan Gamble Gerhard, and Cathleen Gamble Farrell; and his nephew W. Bryan Gamble.
A memorial service will be held January 3 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Magdalene Church, in Bolinas. Donations can be made in Richard’s memory to West Marin Senior Services in Point Reyes Station or to the Stinson Beach Library Improvement Society.