Richard Christopher DeStaffany, one of Friday Harbor’s colorful characters, has died of heart disease at the age of 62.
Born to be the center of attention, Chris kept his friends entertained, inspired, and busy with his high ambitions, seldom worrying about details of preparation and follow-up, as he would muddle through on sheer enthusiasm and a few core principles, depending on others around him to fill in what was needed.
After a rustic early childhood on a wooded shore of San Juan Island’s Griffin Bay, Chris began school in 1956 in Chitose, Japan, where his mother could always find him by listening for the commotion around the exotic blond kid. The band at the Air Force base officers’ club honored him by playing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” whenever the family was in for a visit, a distinction he never forgot.
Back in the U.S., Chris acquired a sister, a brother, and another sister, all born in different states as their father’s electronics career took the family all over the country. Three years in British Columbia brought comparative stability and started him in his life-long tea habit.
By 11th grade he was back home again in Friday Harbor, with plenty of stories to tell and a sense that anything was possible. He was active in band and track, and in 1970 graduated second in his class.
At Western Washington State College, he joined the sailing club and developed a passion for British sports cars. He studied business with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, and soon started his first job as a piano tuner throughout San Juan County. Then he joined in the family business, helping to make the Gourmet’s Galley a going concern.
After college Chris became heavily involved in emergency services. As a volunteer in the Friday Harbor Fire Department he rose quickly through the ranks to become training officer and deputy chief. His unrelenting enthusiasm helped transform the department into a highly motivated, progressive team, proud to strive for the standards of much larger agencies.
He was in the very first EMT class held on the island in 1975, and was one of the top responders in a time when phone-trees served in place of pagers.
Through most of the nineties he was the county’s director of emergency services. He worked at combining his emergency training with his business skills, trying his hand with varying success at sales and service of fire extinguishers, rescue tools, and home medical equipment.
In 1990, friends persuaded him to try out for a role in “Grease.” The theater bug bit him hard—he became an actor, director, playwright, and special-effects guy, sharing his talents with the San Juan Community Theatre, Island Stage Left, and the National Park Service. He was a founding member of the Pig War re-enactors’ group, Battery D.
When he became disenchanted by the pitfalls of being self-employed, he found a way to combine his theatrical nature with his love of being on the road and landed a gig driving the shuttle to Roche Harbor, with a captive audience and a microphone, entertaining passengers with his routine about island living.
Chris found his social niche at Trivia Night at the San Juan Alehouse (later at the Rumor Mill). There, as in his life, he amazed his friends with his eagerness to share rare bits of knowledge, his boundless elation when ahead and his bottomless despair when victory slipped out of reach.
Never married, Chris was preceded in death by parents Dick and Patricia DeStaffany, and is survived by sisters Cindy and Suzanne, and brother Robert. A public memorial gathering is planned for Saturday the 22 of March in Friday Harbor. Details will be announced.
— Family of Christopher DeStaffany
Saturday, 22 March, 2014
In honor of the recently departed Chris DeStaffany, friends are invited to convene at the San Juan Community Theatre around two o’clock in the afternoon for quiet remembrance, progressing from there to the Rumor Mill, about three or three-thirty, for a properly boisterous wake, where beverages will be available and you may, if you wish, bring a favorite dish to share.
— Family of the deceased