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Cruise industry mourns David Christopher

David Christopher, a mentor to many sales executives, was 'liked and loved by all,' according to colleague Ron Kurtz
David Christopher, who held senior roles at Costa Cruises, Commodore/Crown Cruise Lines, Ocean Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line and mentored noted sales executives, died Aug. 13. He was 80.

Christopher died in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he and wife Ines retired several years ago.

Revered as a mentor

'David was one of the kindest, smartest and most generous people I have ever known,' said Mark Conroy, managing director, the Americas, Silversea Cruises. 'Without his mentorship at NCL and partnership at Commodore, I am not sure I would have enjoyed the success I have enjoyed.'

'David was very special,' said Roy Grimsland, another cruise executive whose talent was spotted early on by Christopher. 'He looked out for others. He would go out of his way to help people professionally.'

Christopher was SVP passenger services and, ultimately, EVP at Costa in North America for 15 years, until 2005. Earlier, he headed sales, marketing and passenger services for Commodore/Crown after a short stint at Ocean Cruise Lines and two stretches at Norwegian Cruise Line, in sales then passenger services.

Affinity for passenger services

His daughter Carol thinks passenger services was 'dear to his heart because he was helping people and making sure they had the best experience.'

Grimsland recalls how, aboard the 'nightmare' trans-Atlantic shakedown crossing of the Norway, the former ocean liner France that NCL brought into Caribbean cruising, Christopher was 'at his best. He always tried to make it right for the passengers.'

Christopher himself was proudest, though, of his mentorships and what the people he hired or promoted went on to accomplish.

Grimsland was an entry-level reservations agent at NCL four decades ago when Christopher advanced him to manager of passenger services.

'He gave me that first shot,' Grimsland said.

Many protegés

Besides Grimsland, who went on to lead sales at Radisson Diamond/Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Cruise Line and Paul Gauguin Cruises, and Conroy, who became president of Commodore, Renaissance Cruises and Radisson/Regent Seven Seas Cruises before his current Silversea role, other Christopher protegés include Joe Ewart (NCL, Cruise Holidays, CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. and CLIA Hall of Fame inductee) and John Severini (NCL, Royal Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Trafalgar Tours and others).

Plus: Susan Schirmer (NCL, Royal Cruise Line, Disney, Costa), Michael Hirsch (NCL, Costa, Crown/Commodore, Cunard, Seabourn and, ultimately SVP sales, Oceania Cruises), Jim Applebaum (TravelSavers, First European Cruises, Paul Gauguin, Voyages to Antiquity) and Angie Goicouria (Commodore, Visa International, ultimately Virtuoso).

Ron Kurtz, who led NCL's sales and marketing as SVP at the time, hired Christopher as director of reservations in 1980, his second round with the line.

'Loved by all'

'He worked all hours of the day and night,' Kurtz said. 'That was helpful when we introduced the Norway into service as we went months trying to develop an accurate inventory of cabins and dealing with mechanical problems that put a real burden on reservations. Dave was a very kind and amiable person. He rarely showed the stress he was under.

'He was a real pioneer in the industry and was liked and loved by all.'

Conroy echoed Kurtz's observation that Christopher was a 'tireless worker,' adding that he was firm but always soft-spoken. At NCL Christopher recruited the youthful Conroy to director, group sales, inventory control and guest relations.

'He was a great mentor and with his help we modernized the systems, launched the Norway and fixed its category allocation, all before personal computers,' Conroy said. Christopher managed the Sea Saver program Kurtz created.

Conroy went on to Royal Viking Line before being recruited as president of Commodore. Christopher was already there heading sales, marketing and passenger services, and they worked together to turn the business around.

From the airlines to cruising

Christopher was born in upstate New York, grew up in Florida and graduated from the University of Miami where he studied business and marketing. He first worked for the airlines — TWA, Eastern, Texas International and Air Atlanta — which took him to posts in New York, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta — before moving into cruise sales.

In 1973, Bruce Nierenberg had just become a sales representative for Eastern in Chicago when he got to know Christopher, who had an important job in the airline's Miami home office. NCL was after Christopher to take over Midwest sales for the cruise line in Chicago.

Christopher recommended Nierenberg instead.

'If he did not give them my name, I probably would have ended up in the airline business,' said Nierenberg, who went on to become EVP at NCL, then president of SeaEscape/Scandinavian World Cruises, Premier (which he co-founded), Costa North America, Delta Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines.

In the mid-1970s, Nierenberg got Christopher to join NCL to run sales.

'He was part of one of the most incredible groups of people who ever worked in the industry,' Nierenberg said. 'There were so many new products and concepts coming out that today remain as important parts of the industry. Dave was a big part of that.'

Colleagues became friends

Christopher was known for keeping in touch with colleagues, who became friends. For years, he organized reunion dinners for a core of folks who worked together at NCL. He also was an avid fisherman and enjoyed tooling around in his little pontoon boat in South Florida.

After retiring from Costa in 2005, Christopher served as an adjunct professor at Johnson & Wales University in Miami, teaching cruise operations management to students in the college of hospitality.

Besides his wife of 28 years, Ines, Christopher is survived by daughters Carol Christie of Cartersville, Georgia, and Kelley Barlow of Miami; first wife Jeanie Christopher, a sister, a niece, a nephew and five grandchildren.

A celebration of life is planned at the Church by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

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