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Martinac Shipbuilding chairman dies

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Nov. 29, 2007 at 12:40 pm with No Comments »
November 29, 2007 12:40 pm

Joseph S. Martinac Sr., the chairman of Tacoma’s oldest major shipyard, has died.

Martinac led J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. for nearly 50 years before his death early Wednesday morning.

Joseph S. Martinac Sr. in 1965

Though he was 87, Martinac worked three days a week at the Thea Foss Waterway shipbuilder until two weeks ago when he entered the hospital for an operation to remove non-cancerous cysts on a lung, said his son, Joe Martinac Jr, the shipyard president.

“He never left intensive care. He developed the kinds of problems you’re susceptible to if you’re a person of his age,” said his son.

He died about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday at Tacoma General Hospital.

Martinac’s family plans a “celebration of life” for Martinac from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Tacoma Golf and Country Club.

Martinac assumed control of the shipyard in late ’50s from his father, J.M. Martinac, the shipyard’s founder.

The shipyard began on the Thea Foss Waterway in 1924 building wooden boats. During World War II and the Korean War the company specialized in wooden-hulled minesweepers. The company transitioned to steel and aluminum vessels in the ’60s under the senior Martinac’s leadership.

Under Martinac, the company became a key supplier to the tuna fishing industry. It launched many large tuna seiners for that fishery which was centered in San Diego.

Martinac was a founder of San Diego’s Ocean Fisheries Inc., a company whose tuna fleet was a major player in tuna industry until the mid-’70s when the company was sold to Starkist.

After the tuna industry moved to to other countries, the shipyard changed its emphasis to tugs, ferries and other auxiliary vessels, though it remained in the tuna fishing business with one of its own boats for 16 years.

“Dad had tremendous integrity,” said his son. “He was tough and fair-minded.”

Martinac Sr. served on the board of First Interstate Bank for 18 years. He was among the leaders of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, Annie Wright School and Washington Employers boards.

He served as a Navy PT Boat captain during World War II.

Martinac was a Tacoma native and a 1938 Stadium High School graduate.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Dee of Lakewood, son, Joe Jr., a daughter, Karen, and a grandson, Alex, all of Tacoma.

The yard is part of a consortium negotiating to build the next class of Washington State ferries.

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