Seafarers Fondly Remember Retired Dispatcher Jesse Solis

 

April 2014

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Reflecting on the life of retired union official Jesse Solis, people who worked with him at sea and ashore described him in glowing terms.

 

“He was a kind, caring man who was always able to remain patient and calm,” recalled SIU Vice President Contracts George Tricker, who worked with Solis at the hall in Wilmington, Calif., from 1990-97. “He was more like a father than a brother and he set the standard for servicing the membership. I think everyone who worked with him still carries his example with us every day.”

 

Solis died Feb. 17 in southern California, at age 78. He spent 45 years in the maritime industry, including 26 as an SIU official, before retiring in late 2005. He sailed with the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MC&S) from 1960 until that union merged into the SIU in 1978, then came ashore a year later.

 

In addition to attending his traditional memorial service, many Seafarers and SIU officials met at the Wilmington hall for a remembrance in late February. More than 100 people turned out for that gathering, including retiree Mary Lou Lopez, one of Solis’ close friends.

 

“I met Jesse in 1975 aboard the SS Mariposa,” Lopez remembered. “A few years later, he became a dispatcher and he surely learned the contracts well. He was so helpful to all of us and constantly encouraged us to keep our documents up to date and go to Piney Point (to upgrade).”

 

She added that in retirement, they lived just a few blocks apart in San Pedro, Calif., and kept in frequent touch.

 

“We weren’t boyfriend/girlfriend but we were close friends, and he was always there for me,” Lopez said. “He was positive and funny and just a great guy. He will be missed by many.”

 

A native of Travis County, Texas, Solis began sailing with Matson and later shipped with companies including APL, Oceanic Steamship, Pacific Far East Line, and Delta Steamship Lines. His last ship was the Delta Santa Maria in 1979, on which he was chief steward.

 

Ashore, he officially had several titles over the years including representative, patrolman, port representative, and safety director, but he was known to practically all as dispatcher.

 

Wilmington Port Agent Jeff Turkus said he had an unforgettable first encounter with Solis upon graduating from the trainee program in 1979. When Turkus went to the counter at the old hall in Avalon, Calif., Solis (a Marine Corps veteran), upon learning of Turkus’ service in the Navy, disarmed him when he exclaimed “Not another [bleeping] swabbie!”

 

“It was hilarious,” Turkus said. “I thought I was going to have a problem, but two hours later I was on a ship as an ordinary. I saw him for years after that, and every time I signed off, he’d point at me and say, ‘Don’t sit around, man.’”

 

Turkus added, “Jesse was a special guy. He was compassionate and he would help out anyone who was down in the dumps, whether it was with funds or words of wisdom. He was like a priest – there were some guys you would listen to, and everybody listened to him.”

 

Former Seafarer Bill Pratley, a 1981 graduate of the trainee program who’s now a maritime consultant, knew Solis from shipping out.

 

“Jesse was a soft-spoken, kind and gentle man who could always be counted on to do the right thing,” Pratley said. Solis is survived by four children, six grandchildren, one great grandchild and several siblings.

 

Donations in Solis’ memory may be made to the Disabled American veterans at www.dav.org, 877-426-2838.

 

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