The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) says goodbye this month to the director of its center in Houston, Texas, Captain William R. Douglas. Captain Douglas has served as the director of SCI’s Houston Center for nearly eight years, but his work at the Institute extends many years prior. Douglas’ skill for teaching, which includes education with advanced simulation technology, helped thousands of mariners refine their skills and increase awareness toward safety in the workplace.
A native of South Africa, Captain Douglas was recruited to come to the United States by the Seamen’s Church Institute to teach at New York’s training center in July of 1994. Asked why he agreed to come, Capt. Douglas said, “It was an opportunity to do what I felt called to do: teach.” Douglas feels that the opportunities that he has had at SCI have enabled him to accomplish his life’s ambition.
In the late 90s when SCI began exploring opening a training center for the river waterways—a first-of-its-kind simulator, not owned or operated by a transportation company—Captain Douglas agreed to make a move to Paducah, Kentucky. In 1997, Douglas and his staff began trailblazing. “When he first came to set up the center in Paducah, they all shared one desk in an empty warehouse,” recalls Kelly Butts, Registrar for the center in Kentucky. “He saw the project of opening the simulator from the ground up.” That maritime training center in Paducah now trains thousands of mariners each year at its upgraded, state-of-the-art facility.
SCI and the needs of the maritime community called again on Captain Douglas’ leadership and the respect he’d gained in the industry as a teacher. In 2000, SCI asked Douglas to head up the opening of its second maritime training center in Houston, TX. Capt. Douglas says that this was his proudest achievement. “Bill was the best man for the job,” says Eric Larsson, Director of Maritime Education at Seamen’s Church Institute. “He had the experience and the leadership that we knew would bring success to this project.”
The men and women working on the waterways of the United States came to welcome the South African native as one of their own. Roy Murphy, Training Manager for Kirby Inland Marine Transportation with headquarters in Houston, observed some skepticism when Capt. Douglas was introduced. “They quickly got over it,” says Murphy. “Our guys said ‘Even though he may talk a little funny, he knows what he is talking about.’” As the industry and communities embraced Douglas, so he embraced a country with which he had fallen in love. Douglas became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
A master mariner (unlimited) with command experience, Captain Douglas has logged more than 20 years experience at sea and in shore-side maritime operations. Captain Douglas holds a Master’s Diploma in Technology, Post School Education, from the Cape Technikon in Cape Town, South Africa. Douglas has published educational computer software and professional articles, including “Simulation, Work or Play?” in the September 1995 issue of Safety at Sea International.
Those who encounter Douglas, whether in the classroom or as a leader in the workplace, note his commitment and wealth of expertise. Greg Menke, the Director of SCI’s Paducah Center—the center that Capt. Douglas helped open—notes, “Bill has the knowledge and the background to overcome huge hurdles.” In fact, even toward the end of his career with SCI, Douglas attempts to push SCI’s training facility further, working to upgrade the vessel simulators and the courses taught to train mariners in Houston.
Douglas will spend his retirement in Washington State, where he and his wife, Mavis, own a home. They will be near their new grandson born this past November. Capt. Douglas does not see retirement as stopping, but rather as a change of pace. Douglas expects to keep in touch with the maritime community and serve as a consultant. In this new pace of life, Douglas will also spend a good deal of time sailing. He plans to make his way around the San Juan Islands.
“Bill has made a real difference in the industry, helping to improve the level of professionalism and performance,” Larsson sums up. “SCI is grateful to Bill and the work that he has done for us and the mariners we serve.”