Gambier Islanders are in mourning after a long-time resident described as “the soul of island” was killed last week in a tree-falling accident.
Phil Richardson, 63, was falling a cedar tree on his West Bay property on Thursday, May 22, when the accident occurred. There were no witnesses, but neighbours said it appeared the tree got hung up on other trees on its way down, and when Richardson tried to buck it shorter, the tree kicked back at him.
The loss is an enormous one for the island, said resident Bob Switzer, who spoke on behalf of the island community.
“I would not be exaggerating to say he was the best liked man on the island,” Switzer said Monday. “He was quite a surprising man. He was very well read. He was very intelligent. He was in many ways the soul of the island. He looked after people. If there was a woman in any kind of distress, he was there. If there was an emergency situation of any kind, Phil was there.”
Born in Richmond in 1951, Richardson was three years old when his family first brought him to the island. He began living there full-time in his early 20s.
Since 1989 he worked for Capilano Highways, doing road maintenance on Gambier and sometimes Keats Island.
But it was the countless other jobs that Richardson performed for free that endeared him to islanders, Switzer said.
“We don’t have any services on the island. Phil was that man, in many respects. He was our services man.”
Along with a couple of other island stalwarts, Richardson would provide speedboat services in emergencies and staff the island’s first aid station when help was needed.
“If someone needed wheelchair access, Phil would organize the building of ramps, and he did these things for no money. He was the one who made it so much possible for people to be comfortable and feel safe,” Switzer said.
“I don’t know anybody on the island who didn’t like Phil Richardson. Older people on the island are worried now that they’re not going to be able to continue without Phil, because he was always there.”
A carver, baker and prize pumpkin grower, Richardson also had a special knack with children, Switzer said.
“He was very, very fond of making sure that kids kept on the right road. He was always there to teach kids about the wilderness.
He knew a lot about nature and he was a very good mushroomer. Old and young alike were his friends.
Richardson is survived by his brother Steve on Gambier, his mother Mary at Christenson Village in Gibsons, and long-time partner Nancy Chen.
“The love of his life was Nancy,” Switzer said. “They were just a remarkable, lovely couple. They were together for 16 years.”
Switzer said it was Nancy’s actions that led to the discovery of Richardson’s body.
“He had not turned up for lunch. She got some friends together and they went looking for him and they found him on the property,” he said.
A memorial service is planned for this Sunday morning, June 1, at the Gambier Community Centre.
Among those attending will be Richardson’s colleagues from Capilano Highways, said Tyler Lambert, manager of roads for the Sunshine Coast region.
Lambert described Richardson as a “fantastic operator” and “great employee,” who “represented our interests very well and serviced the island extremely well. Everybody had nothing but good things to say about him, including our entire crew.”
Richardson’s death “affects the whole company,” Lambert said. “We were all very shocked. He will be very sorely missed.”
The B.C. coroner’s office is investigating the accident.
© Coast Reporter