(August 5, 2007) To Lou Bettinelli, Captain James Stillwaggon was a “giant in the industry.” He was also a mentor and friend. Stillwaggon, a pilot renowned in the United States and abroad for his piloting expertise, died Aug. 4. He was 87.
A 50-year piloting veteran, Stillwaggon was described by Newsday as “a leading global expert in the ship industry.”
Born in Brooklyn, Stillwaggon began his maritime career working on tugboats as a teenager, soon working his way to the position of captain and eventually, pilot.
In 1959, Stillwaggon, along with Captains Fred Patykewich, Sam Sorensen, and Ed Davies founded Interport Piloting, an organization that offers piloting services in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. It is through this organization that Lou Bettinelli first met Stillwaggon.
“Jim was my mentor and teacher,” Bettinelli said. “When I started in the business in 1981, he really was the person who spent the most time teaching me.”
Now the president of Interport, Bettinelli regards Stillwaggon a true pioneer in the piloting industry. “He led the way in bridge team management before it had a name and really initiated the notion of people working together on the bridge of a ships.”
In addition to founding Interport, he worked internationally as a consultant for developing harbors such as St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and Dubai. He also continued to work many prestigious piloting jobs, such as piloting HMS Bounty during the 1964 World’s Fair.
Stillwaggon performed all these jobs while wearing a prosthesis to replace part of his foot lost in a tugboat accident when he was 18. Bettinelli noted that Stillwaggon never complained about the problems this handicap caused him in the performance of his job.
“If you didn’t know he had it,” he said, “I don’t think you would be able to tell.”
Though Stillwaggon retired in the mid-1990s, Bettinelli sees evidence daily of the impact Stillwaggon had on the industry.
“He was irreplaceable, and there’ll never be one like him, as far as I’m concerned. He was truly ahead of his time.”
Stillwaggon is survived by his wife of 66 years, a son, and daughter, a brother, as well as 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.