James F. Goodrich, 99: A leader, man of the sea

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FALMOUTH — James F. Goodrich, 99, died on July 16 at his apartment at Oceanview in Falmouth.

Born on Jan. 24, 1913, to Captain William F. and Helen Mohler Goodrich in Fennville, Mich., he graduated from Jackson High School in Michigan in 1931. Goodrich was an Eagle Scout and Sea Scout. His small town life changed dramatically when, at 16, he traveled the Atlantic Ocean by ship to England for the 1929 International Scout Jamboree. He saw England, crossed the English Channel to France and from this moment his eyes were opened to a world he had to see through a growing passion for ships and maritime history.

In 1937, Goodrich received a Bachelor of Science in naval architecture and engineering from the University of Michigan. He then joined the Merchant Marine, transporting oil from Venezuela to the East Coast. In 1940, as World War II loomed, he became chief engineer and naval architect at the Todd-Pacific Shipyards in Tacoma, Wash., and played a key role in the Liberty ship war effort by helping to develop the mass production of escort aircraft carriers.

Following the war, Goodrich co-founded Deep Sea Trawlers, a company that pioneered the Alaska king crab industry of today. In 1957, he was appointed general manager of Todd’s Los Angeles shipyard in San Pedro, Calif. Here he demonstrated his uncanny ability to assess ship damage and then estimate “on the fly” the time and materials required to get the ship repaired and back in service without doing a formal engineering study.

In 1965, Goodrich became president and chief executive officer of the Bath Iron Works and served in that capacity until 1975, when he was named chairman of the board until his retirement in 1978. He steered BIW through very turbulent years in the 1960s, fighting in Washington, D.C., for Navy contracts as a small shipyard against big southern competitors. He led the team that began the successful modernization program that has stood BIW well to this day.   

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, recognizing Goodrich’s maritime and ship building expertise, chose him to become undersecretary of the Navy to rebuild a 600-ship Navy. On his retirement as undersecretary in 1987, he received the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Medal and the Department of Navy Distinguished Civilian Medal.

In 1973, Bowdoin College awarded Goodrich an honorary doctor of laws degree and in 1995, the University of Michigan awarded him the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Alumni Society Merit Award.

In his personal life, Goodrich was an avid skier and sailor with an endless competitive spirit, who thrilled to sail the Maine coast with his children and grandchildren. He was passionate even to the end in a quest for knowledge and education. He had a genuine interest in the lives of those he met, curious to know their own goals and aspirations and always asked about their families.

Goodrich is survived by his wife of 72 years, the former Helen Virginia Poe of Tacoma, Wash.; three children, James P. Goodrich and Marilyn Peterson, of St Helens, Ore., John F. Goodrich and his wife, Corey, of Cumberland, and Nancy McGraw and her husband, Terry, of Darien, Conn.; eight grandchildren and 8 great-grandsons.

The family will be holding a private burial service with a celebration of his life later this summer.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be directed to: The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital of Maine Medical Center, Development Office, 22 Bramhall St., Portland, ME  04102, or Boy Scouts Pine Tree Council, # 218, 131 Johnson Road, Portland, ME  04102.