Steven M. Moodie, 82, shipmaster, president of Calmar Steamship

March 13, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Capt. Steven M. Moodie, a World War II Liberty shipmaster who later became president of the Baltimore-based Calmar Steamship Corp., died of lung cancer March 6 at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Towson resident was 82.

With his closely cut silver hair and ruddy complexion, Captain Moodie seemed to be the embodiment of an experienced old salt.

He was born in Dundee, Scotland, into a seafaring family. His father was a steamship captain, and an uncle had been master of the famed British clipper ship Cutty Sark, which was built in 1869.

"He was one of the great coast-wise captains of the Calmar Line and a man of great skills. He really was a decent guy and could get along with anybody," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a former U.S. maritime commissioner.

In the early 1920s, Captain Moodie immigrated to the United States and settled in Staten Island, N.Y., with his family. He graduated in 1942 from New York State Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in the Bronx.

"He earned his master's ticket when he was 22 and was one of the youngest captains given a command of a Liberty ship at the time. He was 23," said his wife of 25 years, the former Marie L. Lustig.

Captain Moodie saw treacherous sea duty as a merchant mariner during World War II on the Murmansk Run, whose convoys of merchant vessels were under continuous threat from enemy attack and were exposed to severe Arctic weather. Their purpose was to keep war materiel flowing through the Russian ports of Archangel and Murmansk to the Eastern front.

Captain Moodie also did convoy duty on the North Atlantic and Pacific, and managed to come through World War II unscathed.

After the war, he went to sea for Bethlehem Steel Corp., captaining ships in the iron ore trade.

He later was promoted to Bethlehem's marine division vice president. In 1975, he was appointed president of Calmar Steamship Corp. and the company's Great Lakes steamship divisions. He retired in 1981.

One of the greatest challenges of his career came in 1951, when he briefly served as master of the Cliffs Victory on a leg of the ship's voyage from New Orleans to Chicago.

The Victory Class vessel was built in 1945, during the waning days of World War II, as the Notre Dame Victory and sailed briefly before being laid up in 1948 in the James River Reserve Fleet.

In 1950, because of the demands of the Korean War, the need for iron ore and the fact that Great Lakes shipyards were flooded with orders for new vessels, the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. of Cleveland bought the vessel and had it towed to Bethlehem's Key Highway yard in Baltimore.

At the yard, the former 455-foot Notre Dame Victory, an oceangoing 10,000-ton dry cargo vessel, was cut in two. A new 165-foot midsection was installed, and the new 635-foot ship -- renamed Cliffs Victory -- emerged from the yard as a 12,000-ton bulk ore carrier.

At the time, it was the first Victory ship converted at Key Highway used in the Great Lakes trade built outside the inland waterways. The vessel was towed from Baltimore to New Orleans, where Captain Moodie oversaw its towing up the Mississippi River to Chicago.

Captain Moodie, in an interview with The Sun, later said he was concerned about the 53 bridges and the many tight clearances in the river along the way. Many bridges were cleared by inches, and the vessel arrived in Chicago without hitting one abutment, pier or bridge.

Mrs. Bentley, then maritime editor of The Sun, traveled on the ship to report on the voyage from Baltimore to Chicago.

"The first thing Steve did was order me to wear my hair up under a cap so no one knew there was a woman on board," Mrs. Bentley said with a laugh. "People lined the shores of the Mississippi all the way up to Chicago. It was the first time an oceangoing ship had gone up the river," she said.

After retiring from Bethlehem Steel Corp., Captain Moodie was a lobbyist in Washington for the Federation of American Controlled Shipping, an organization of American owners of foreign-flagged ships. In 1986, he retired permanently.

"Steve really reflected the greatest generation. He was one of the most gracious and effective individuals I met at Bethlehem," said William E. Wickert Jr., former head of the company's federal government affairs office in Washington. "He was just a distinguished person you met very seldom in life."

Captain Moodie was a member of the Maryland Marine Club and the American Bureau of Shipping.

He enjoyed traveling and spending time at a second home at White Point, Nova Scotia, where he could hear the roar of the Atlantic and from a second-story room could observe passing steamers.

Services were held Thursday.

In addition to his wife, Captain Moodie is survived by a son, Steve Moodie of New Mexico; two daughters, Sheila Ohmacht and Nancy Pollinger, both of New Jersey; and five grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

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