were two trade associations that represented
manufacturers, but no organization represented boat owners to take up the cause. This
was an opportunity for a new organization
that combined my passion for the law, and
the political process. I called it Boat Owners
Association of The United States – BoatU.S.!
BoatU.S. folks say you love to argue?
Legislative problems don’t just solve themselves. You have to present your position
again and again, until people in power do
something about it. I was on the debate team
in college and learned to look at both sides
of an issue. You understand a lot more that
way, and that really helps when you’re trying to change congressional minds. We’ve
been winning for boaters for years, using that
approach. If that’s arguing, then I guess I do
like to argue.
In the early days at BoatU.S., you
were known as a micromanager,
and could be heard all over the
building. Now you’re the picture of
calm. What happened?
I was always worried sick about making payroll and was afraid of failure. I just believed
we needed to be perfect to succeed. So I
was under a lot of pressure, and erupted
when things weren’t right. A few things happened that calmed me down. First, BoatU.S.
finally became successful and passed the
100,000-member mark — that took 14 years!
Second, I spent eight post-divorce years with
my daughters. With a carefully modulated
“now, DAD” whenever I needed it, Dianne,
Lori, and Pammy reminded me that I didn’t
need to manage everyone around me. I was
ready to recalibrate. It also helped that I kept
hearing from members what a terrific job our
staff was doing.
Richard and Dick Ellison,
his BoatU.S. co-founder,
opening one of the 62
BoatU.S. Marine Centers.
Do you have a hero? A role model?
My uncle Louie was my hero and my father
was my role model. In the early years of
BoatU.S., there were others. My first wife,
Sally-Jane Heit, gave up a career in show
business to stay in Washington so I could
start this association. That was a heroic gift.
Charlie Hobbs and Sam Murray were two
dear friends who invested their scarce dollars
and time. They still hold BoatU.S. member
numbers two and three! Dick Ellison, a sailor
who knew more about recreational boating
than I did, was my first partner. His knowledge was the genesis of what became our
chain of 62 retail stores, which we eventually
sold to West Marine.
How did you meet your wife, Beth?
Through friends, at the theater. I’d been
divorced for eight years and Beth was a
widow. She really HAD been born in the bilge
of a boat, and was an entrepreneur who’d
started a high-tech business. Intrigued, I
asked for her number. Six months later we
were engaged. That was 25 years ago.
What have been your proudest
I’d say the first was passage of that 1971
Federal Boat Safety Act, which gave the U.S.
Coast Guard jurisdiction over manufacturers
and made them subject to Coast Guard regulations. That was huge. Next was the passage
of the Wallop-Breaux Act, which we fought
hard for, that returns boaters’ gas-tax money
to the states to promote safe boating, build
ramps, transient docks, pumpout stations,
and more. Then came the repeal of the boat
user fee. My hands-down proudest moment,
though, was in 1989 when I announced the
first Employee Stock Ownership Plan, making
every employee who had worked so hard to
spent countless hours
behalf of the
make BoatU.S. successful an owner of our
company. That felt great!
What is your biggest regret?
Lost years with my daughters as they were
growing up. I look at them today, with their
kids, and the role my sons-in-law play in
raising their children. That role is a loss in
What was your “big spend” when
you became successful?
Beth and I established a foundation to benefit
the community, and education funds for our
Boating means so much to your
family. Does everyone go boating?
Boating is our way of life. Summers revolve
around the water at our house on the
Potomac River. Our grandchildren are put in
life jackets and are on boats at 3 months old.
By 2 or 3, they’re “helping” on the boats. We
have a 42-foot catamaran deck boat that we
all go out on together, a classic 22-foot Chris-Craft outdrive with a rumble seat — that’s
Beth’s favorite! — a 21-foot Hurricane outboard for waterskiing, a little sailing dinghy,
canoe, kayak, paddleboat, and small electric
boats for the grandkids. On a good weekend,
they’re all off the dock, and I’m content!
Even at 84, you’re a night owl, out
late, sending emails at all hours?
I don’t get that old adage, “Early to bed, early
to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and
wise.” One of the compelling reasons to start
my own organization was that I hated being
admonished for being late to work. Beth and
I love to go out at night — to the theater, the
opera, or just out for dinner with friends. I
started time-shifting long before the digital age.