Remembering Richard Nicolls

Remembering Richard Nicolls 
October 11, 1927- September 1, 2022

My dad, Richard Thomas Nicolls, passed away today. He was 94. Some of you may know him as an old-timer on Guemes, who retired here in 1991.

Dad’s life on Guemes was civic-minded. He served two terms, and one appointment as District 17 Guemes Fire Commissioner. His specialty, according to my mom, was grant writing. He also was on the Guemes Island Community Association as (and at different times) secretary, treasurer and president. Other activities included working with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) on the island and supporting my mom’s political activities. 

As a youth, Dad joined the Merchant Marines and worked on Liberty Ships. It was the end of World War II. He was 17. He helped move displaced persons around the world. Dad jumped ship in the Philippines and lived there before returning to California. Then came the Korean War. Dad served in the Air Force as a B-36 tail gunner and in electronics, although he did not see combat. 

Dad left the Air Force as a sergeant and met Mom at the University of California, Riverside. They shared a comparative vertebrate anatomy class and teamed up to dissect a shark. Mom said they sat together in the library “because they couldn’t remove the smell from their hands and no one wanted to sit next to them.” Dad said he married Mom because he carried her books to class after she twisted her ankle and broke her metatarsal while mailing his mother’s tax returns.

They married their senior year and graduated from UC Riverside in 1957. Mom taught school and supported Dad the first ten years of their marriage while Dad went to medical school.

It’s impossible to talk about Dad without including Mom in the ‘almost’ international incidents, epic family vacations, and at times, a witness to history through sixty-five years of marriage. Dad worked as a medical doctor for ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, ExxonMobil Oil in Indonesia, Global Associates on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, and for the US government in Germany. 

I’ve included some of their adventures. They’re mostly in chronological order. 

Dad and Mom moved to Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, an ARAMCO camp, in 1966. The 1967 Six-Day War broke out a year later. Riots broke out in the nearby town. Lots of Americans left. My parent’s did not. Someone had a shortwave radio. They’d gather and listen to the BBC and Voice of America. Eventually everything calmed down and Mom and Dad stayed a few more years the first time.

From 1972-77 my parents lived on Kwajalein, a small Pacific island, three miles wide and a half mile long. Dad biked to work. Everyone wore shorts and flip-flops. Dad and Mom scuba dived and watched unarmed test missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base land in the lagoon. 

Dad and Mom were in the airport for the Raid on Entebbe, also called Operation Entebbe, that occurred July 3-4, 1976. They were NOT on the hijacked airplane but rather heading home after a trip through Uganda and other African countries. The adventure included a site-seeing safari with giraffes and an elephant and a rhinoceros that charged their jeep. Mom said they were never in danger during the Entebbe raid. You’ll have to ask Mom about that one. All the documentaries I’ve watched show the shot up airport.

While on Kwaj, Mom and Dad visited Korsae for celebrations in 1977 when it joined the Federated States of Micronesia. At the time Korsae didn’t have an airport so they travelled on a boat as deck passengers. Each village hosted dancing and feasts and everyone ate fried frog legs. Storm waves washed over my parents and others on the first night headed back to Kwaj on the back deck. I’m not sure how well anyone slept.

While in Saudi Arabia (1977-81) the second time, Mom and Dad decided to scuba dive in the Red Sea, which was a drive across the country. The week-long camping trip included a longer than anticipated snorkel adventure with several barracuda in four and a half feet of water. 

On a car trip to Jordan, Dad and Mom decided we should see the Dead Sea. At the time Israeli tensions with Lebanon, and Jordan made travel unsafe. The first checkpoint heading toward the water was unmanned. The second wasn’t. After troops at the second checkpoint turned Mom and Dad back, they found the now-manned first checkpoint bristling with angry soldiers. Mom spoke Arabic to a screaming soldier who pointed a machine gun at her.

Same Jordan trip again but this time near the spectacular crusader castles, Dad ate bad figs, and was very sick, but insisted on driving across Jordan to Saudi Arabia. Mom donned a ghutra and drove to a tapline camp that linked the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to Sidon, Lebanon. Same trip, Mom was thrown to the ground, escorted to the vehicle and her undeveloped film confiscated because she took photos at the border.

The Shah of Iran was overthrown on February 11, 1979 while Mom and Dad were still in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia In turn, that sparked the Iran Hostage Crisis. On November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took sixty American hostages.The Iran-Iraq War began Sept 22, 1980. Shia and Sunni Muslims lived in different parts of Saudi Arabia and sided with either Iran or Iraq. Dad treated gunshot wounds from people in the local Saudi towns. Iran or Iraq threatened to bomb the Ras Tanura refinery, which at the time was the third largest in the world. The mosques ‘called to prayer’ 24/7. An attempt to rescue the American hostages failed. Bags were packed and my parents left a year later.

Mom and Dad lived in Germany from 1985-1991. Dad worked at the U.S. Army’s 209th General Dispensary in Hanau, Germany. They were at the Ramstein Air Show Disaster in Germany on August 28, 1988, and were a short distance from where the jets crashed. They didn’t get home until late that night. They talked about burn victims and people who didn’t make it. They also went to the Berlin Wall and took home pieces of asbestos. 

Mom and Dad ventured into ground caves in Saudi Arabia, climbed the tallest jebels (mountains), and looked up at the clearest sky full of night time stars. They spent several days in the Sumatran jungle looking for bat range extensions with scientists, collected red sand from the Rub’ al Khali, feasted at Goat Grabs and ate durian and sea slugs. They had their passports stolen in Iran and lost their entire household shipment, which now lays at the bottom of the Red Sea. They’ve also driven across the Island of Sumatra, Indonesia, in search of the rare and mysterious Rafflesia flower.

While on Guemes, PBS's History Detectives interviewed Dad for a show that centered on his dad, my grandfather, in Los Angeles in the 1930s. If you’re interested, the link is below. He’s in the first segment. Dad loved being recognized on the ferry because of this show.

I can’t think of much Dad hasn’t accomplished in his long life, except Dad always wanted a sailboat. I expect he’s there now, sailing and soaring and free of pain. His truly was an interesting, well-lived life.

Dad is survived by my mom, Gail Moore Nicolls of Guemes Island, his daughter Kani Nicolls and partner Ellenburg, and their adopted triplet daughters Allison Nicolls and her husband Chuck Travis, Kristen Nicolls of Guemes and partner Jim Jalbert, Michelle and Mike Drumheller. Dad also has one grandson, Eric Drumheller. 

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