Maritime industry advocate Helen Delich Bentley dies at 92


(BALTIMORE) — Helen Delich Bentley, the highly respected maritime journalist, former Federal Maritime Commission chairwoman and five-term U.S. congresswoman, died Saturday at home following a bout with brain cancer. She was 92 and worked, juggling two cellphones from her sick bed, almost until the day she passed away at her home in Lutherville, Md.
Throughout her 70-plus year career, Bentley had tirelessly promoted two major issues — the advancement of America's industrial/manufacturing base and the maritime community that carried products to and from market-primarily through the Port of Baltimore.
Born in Ruth, Nevada, one of seven children, her father was a Serbian immigrant copper miner. While at high school, she worked on the weekly newspaper of Ely, Nevada, which was published by Republican state legislator Charles Russell. Bentley received scholarships to study journalism at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1944.
Following her graduation, she worked for small-town newspapers in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Lewiston, Idaho, but she wanted to report hard news for a larger publication; at the time, most women journalists were limited to writing social news. She contacted all the main East Coast newspapers and in 1945, The Baltimore Sun offered her a reporting position at five dollars a week more than the next contender and she never looked back, initially reporting on labor and union matters, She was then dispatched to the waterfront to revive coverage of the port, a beat the newspaper had neglected during World War II. She had never seen a ship, or the ocean. It was a tough, male-dominated environment, but she loved it.
"I had to be as mean and as tough as I could be. And I was," she said in 2010. "I was thrown out of more union halls. I was kicked out and carried out of the halls." But it wasn't long before the union bosses became her friends and sources.
"I wore 'em down because I was always fair and I was always honest with them," she said. She found other ways to fit in. Once, a longshoreman made a disparaging comment about her nose. She slugged him. She developed a maritime and waterfront news niche. She became a widely respected maritime reporter, dealing with people from longshoremen to politicians.
She was also a skilled mediator between labor and management, and an energetic advocate for jobs and economic opportunity. An internationally recognized expert on maritime issues, Bentley pushed for fair trade and a strong national defense.
Bentley also laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Maritime Security Program to provide adequate funding for American-flagged cargo ships. Today, this program has salvaged a major remnant of America's merchant marine.
In 1969, then President Richard Nixon appointed Bentley, who had married William (Bill Bentley) 10 years earlier, as chairwoman of the U.S. regulatory agency Federal Maritime Commission. She became the fourth-highest ranking woman in the history of America's federal government, the highest-ranking woman of Nixon's administration, the first woman to serve in a key governmental position in the maritime field and the first woman appointed by a president to head a regulatory agency.
She was a principal architect of the Nixon administration's 1970 Merchant Marine Act, which established a level of government support for building tankers and bulk carriers in U.S. shipyards.
Bentley used her chairmanship as a platform to strengthen American industry, and then continued the fight in Congress, where she became a leader against the transfer of jobs overseas.

By Professional Mariner Staff