DeLacy L. Cook

Merchant mariner became a port captain and later chief engineer of restored Liberty ship

March 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

DeLacy L. "Cookie" Cook, a World War II merchant mariner and retired port captain for United States Lines who later became chief engineer of the Liberty ship John W. Brown, died Monday of sepsis at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The longtime Lutherville resident was 85.

Mr. Cook was born in Pasadena, Calif., and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., where he graduated from Santa Ana High School.

"Why did I go to sea? I lived at the beach in California, spent a lot of time there growing up. I just fell into it," he told former Sun editor and John W. Brown volunteer Ernest F. Imhoff, whose book Good Shipmates chronicled the story of the reactivation in Baltimore of the World War II-era Liberty ship.

After graduating from California Maritime Academy at Vallejo in 1943, Mr. Cook went to sea as third engineer aboard the SS Anson P.K. Stafford, operated by United States Lines on a wartime voyage across the Pacific.

He spent the rest of the war years serving in convoys that sailed back and forth across the Atlantic to Europe.

After the war, Mr. Cook spent 12 years at sea aboard U.S. Lines vessels until coming ashore in 1957, taking a position as the company's port engineer in Baltimore.

"Port engineers are liaisons between the company and the U.S. Coast Guard, American Bureau of Shipping Surveyors and the insurance surveyors," he explained in Good Shipmates. "They are also in charge of repairs of ships. I rose to assistant superintendent engineer in Baltimore for United States Lines. I practically lived in the yards at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and Bethlehem Steel Key Highway."

After U.S. Lines stopped drydocking ships in Baltimore, Mr. Cook began commuting from Baltimore to New York City, where he had been promoted to one of the line's port engineers. He retired in 1985.

Four years later, he began helping with the John W. Brown, which was under restoration by the volunteer members of Project Liberty Ship, owners of the vessel.

Mr. Cook helped with the ship's triple expansion reciprocating steam engine and other engine room machinery. After John Minor, the Brown's chief engineer, retired in 1994, Mr. Cook took over as chief engineer.

Mr. Cook was in the engine room on Aug. 24, 1991, when the Brown sailed from Baltimore on her sea trials for the first time since 1946.

"The John W. Brown was his life for the last 20 years, from the time he retired until the day he died," said his wife of 59 years, the former Marjorie "Marge" Speicher.

"When Cookie came aboard the Brown, it was a nonoperating vessel, and he had the technical ability to get her steaming and keep her steaming," said Michael J. Schneider, chairman of Project Liberty Ship.

Because of illness, Mr. Cook hadn't been on the ship since last fall.

"I'd call him, and I could tell he was down in the dumps, but once I started talking about the ship, he'd ask detailed questions about various projects and the people. He never lost his interest in it," Mr. Schneider said.

Joe Carbo, a retired merchant marine engineer who was Mr. Cook's assistant and is acting chief engineer, said, "He was a nice guy in every way and the best engineer I ever worked with during all my years at sea."

He recalled that Mr. Cook's patience and ability to think things out before acting made him popular with Brown shipmates.

"Cookie had more background knowledge than the average engineer. He was an old reciprocating engine man, and in addition to that was responsible for all the machinery aboard the ship, both electrical and mechanical. It was a tremendous responsibility," he said.

He also praised Mr. Cook's vast maritime industry friendships, which proved "very helpful to the Brown."

In 2001, Mr. Cook received the prestigious Bos'n Marvin Curry Award of the Historic Naval Ships Association.

"I started on a Liberty and it looks like I'm going to wrap it up on one. It seems natural. I worked on ships and sailed all my life," Mr. Cook said in Good Shipmates.

Mr. Cook enjoyed spending summers in California, where he liked fishing in the Sierra Nevada.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. May 3 aboard the John W. Brown, Pier 1, Clinton Street, in Canton.

At Mr. Cook's request, he was cremated and will be buried at sea during the ship's voyage to Norfolk, Va., in July.

Also surviving are a son, Kevin L. Cook of Herndon, Va.; a daughter, Donna M. Soper of Burke, Va.; and five grandchildren. Another daughter, Robin Cook, died 1992.

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