Industry leader Capt. Brian McAllister dies at 89

(NEW YORK) — Capt. Brian A. McAllister, a distinguished and visionary leader of the maritime industry, died in New York on June 29 at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Rosemary; his sons, Buckley and Eric; and four grandchildren.

A 1956 engineering graduate of the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College, McAllister went on to obtain a chief engineer’s license before changing careers to work as a deck officer. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War as a lieutenant junior grade and was executive officer on USS Lake County (LST 80).

In 2017, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by his alma mater. He was proud to be a member of the fourth generation of the family maritime company which was founded in 1864.

Capt. Brian A. McAllister

A repeated pattern of disaster, opportunity and personal strength of character enabled McAllister to expand the company. During the 1970s and 1980s, he established operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Bonaire, Panama and Peru. Later in his career, he expanded the business to Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

This growth was driven by a mixture of navigational know-how, technological innovation, a cadre of excellent mariners and a passion for investing in the transportation industry. He rarely boarded a vessel he didn’t love.

The 1970s and 1980s were also characterized by long years of labor strife. The sharp downturn in the price of oil in the 1980s dramatically changed the competitive landscape throughout the industry. Hundreds of incidents of violence between union and non-union seamen were reported during this period. McAllister helped keep the company running by personally commanding vessels and piloting ship operations in New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk.

In the 1990s, he was involved in acrimonious litigation over control of the company. In 1998, he became the first sole owner of McAllister Towing since its founding in a transaction that spun off its foreign subsidiaries. He used this reorganization as an impetus to completely rebuild the fleet. Under his leadership, the company designed and constructed numerous tugboats and ferries equipped with technologies such as flanking rudders, z-drives, low emission engines, advanced firefighting and emergency response, some in its own shipyard.

Late in life, the boy who went to college to play basketball discovered the beauty and importance of maritime history. In 2005, he supported the publication of an award-winning title, “Tugboats of New York” by George Matteson. In 2015, he participated writing the book “McAllister Towing, 150 Years of Family Business.” In 2016, he was featured in “Heroes of the Harbor” by Marian Betancourt. In 2018, he was thanked by Jennifer Egan for providing background for her book “Manhattan Beach.”

McAllister served on numerous boards including the South Street Seaport Museum, the Maritime Association of New York/New Jersey, the National Maritime Historical Society, the American Bureau of Shipping and the American Steamship Owners Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association. He was the recipient of many awards and honors including the 2012 National Maritime Historical Society Distinguished Service Medal, the 2013 Seamen’s Church Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2015 Massachusetts Maritime Academy Maritime Person of the Year, and a 2015 induction into the International Maritime Hall of Fame.

In his commencement speech in 2017 at SUNY Maritime, McAllister told the graduates that the secret to his success had been a good education, the willingness to take on new challenges, and the luck of having many friends to help him to seize opportunities. He encouraged the Class of 2017 that some of the greatest assets to help advance their careers would be their classmates. He further counseled them with his enduring motto: “And keep the flag flying.”

– McAllister Towing

By Rich Miller