Rita and Chris Elliott have a story about why they ended up doing what they do.
Traveling together in El Salvador in 1980 the pair came across a market place choked with crowds and cars. At the center of the commotion was a truck transporting an unconscious man. Rita had had CPR training and so climbed into the vehicle to see if she could help. “He had been pulled from the beach,” Rita says, describing how the man was “a pale shade of blue.”
Joined by another American, the two administered first aid to the man. “By the time we were done the guy was sitting up in the back of the truck.”
It is this type of experience that inspired the two to join the Lopez Island Emergency Services. “It’s after seeing things like that,” says Chris of the market place incident, “that makes you want to help…you realize that with one moment in time you can save peoples lives.”
Saving people’s lives is what the Elliotts went on to do for over twenty years. Rita has been an EMT for 20 years, and Chris has been a paramedic for 25 years and with the fire department for 26 years total.
It is this career that they are retiring from at the end of June. With the couple now in their sixties and with strong community appreciation behind them, Rita and Chris are leaving Lopez after 38 years.
“We’re actually moving to Costa Rica,” Chris says. The two first went there in the early nineties, fell in love with it, and now have a home and friends there. Both are Spanish speakers, and look froward to the climate and pace of life. Rita intends to paint more and Chris is ready with a variety of projects.
The couple admits that trading Lopez for the Costa Rican town of Nicoya will be wrench, but that they are trying to focus more on the positive side of moving.
They are not, however, getting away quietly. The Lopez community, ever family-like, is throwing a retirement party for Rita and Chris. Fire Chief Jim Ghiglione is helping co-ordinate the event and sees it as a chance to celebrate two important community figures. “I’ve only worked here two years, but I can see [Rita and Chris] are fully invested in this community…working on calls [with them] is always positive, their level of skills, sophication and training, I just walk around with a great big smile on my face.”
The party will be on June 21 at the lopez community center from 4-7 p.m. It is open to anyone and both food and drink will be provided. Organizers are asking only that you bring a favorite memory of Rita and Chris along with you, “bring anything you would like to share,” says Ghiglione, “any photos or stories…Chris and Rita are a big part of the fabric of this community.”