An affinity for words … and people

Colleagues in marine journalism mourn longtime PMY editor-in-chief Richard Thiel, dead at age 70
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Thiel understood boats from the inside out and was generous with his time and knowledge.

Thiel understood boats from the inside out and was generous with his time and knowledge.

Friends and associates in the marine industry are mourning the death of Capt. Richard Thiel, editor-at-large of Power & Motoryacht magazine, who died Sept. 13 in Branford, Conn., of complications from a stroke suffered a week earlier. He was 70 and a resident of Chester, Conn.

Thiel, known affectionately as “RT,” had been editor-in-chief of PMY, which is owned by Active Interest Media’s Marine Group, from 1987 to 2012. (Soundings Trade Only is also part of the AIM Marine Group.)

Many took instantly to social media to lament Thiel’s unexpected death, several of them sharing photographic memories of time spent with him. Many also shared memories of Thiel’s legacy and the impression he made on those who knew him.

“He was a great friend, mentor and colleague and is sorely missed,” says PMY digital editor John Turner. “During the financial crisis of 2008 the company that owned Power & Motoryacht [at the time] was laying off people right and left. When it became my turn to get the ax, it fell to Richard to do the deed. I tell you honestly that he was more upset than I was — and I was pretty upset. Two weeks later he threw me a going-away party in a local bar on his own dime. And he hired me back as soon as he was able to.”

John Wooldridge, of Marine Words, remembers Thiel as a friendly yet tough competitor. He recalls their experience in London, leaving their hotel to look for a typical British pub prior to an event they were attending later that evening. They wandered for more than a mile before asking directions. They eventually stopped for a pint of beer, then headed outside to hail a cab to take them to their rapidly approaching event.

“While we waited on a taxi I looked up the block and noticed a stainless and glass fence overlooking a subterranean garden, and it looked familiar. We had passed it as we left our hotel,” Wooldridge says. “Sure enough, the hotel was one street over, behind the pub. We laughed about our navigational skills at many boat shows thereafter. I’ll miss him.”

PMY senior editor Daniel Harding recalls going to work on one of his first days at the magazine and being tasked with helping to bring Thiel’s columns and “countless features” through the editorial rounds.

“Working with the longest-running editor-in-chief in Power & Motoryacht history was a daunting first assignment, but Richard put my mind right at ease,” Harding says. “He was everything you could hope for in a colleague — punctual, polite and gracious with his time and advice. I’ll always be thankful for being assigned to work with Richard; he became a friend and a great role model.”

Diane Byrne, editor of MegayachtNews.com, began working with Thiel in 1993 and continued with him at PMY for 15 years. “I really felt like I found home,” Byrne says. “It sounds corny, but it was true. It wasn’t like working for Richard — it was working with him — that’s what made it so special.”

Working with Thiel was not a typical editor-in-chief and junior editor relationship, Byrne says. “There are some who are like, ‘I’m all the way up here, and you little people in the trenches do the work,’ ” Byrne says. “Richard was never like that. It didn’t matter what your job title was; you could pitch any idea at any time. It was really remarkable. You could really make your job your own.”

Thiel was the editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht magazine from 1987 to 2012.

Thiel was the editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht magazine from 1987 to 2012.

Patrick Sciacca, editor-in-chief of Yachting magazine, says he had known Thiel for 17 years and worked with him at PMY for 12 of those.

“He loved the marine industry,” Sciacca says. “He really just lived and breathed this. It was his soul. He was special that way. He had an enthusiasm for what he did. Even as the years went on, he maintained the same enthusiasm as his first day on the job. That’s kind of special. That never waned for him. He completely loved this industry.”

Thiel had a natural ability to connect with people from all walks of life, regardless of their background, Sciacca says. “You know how there are people who are multilingual — they speak seven or eight languages? Richard could do that with people,” Sciacca says. “It didn’t matter who you were. He could connect with anybody. It’s a gift. It was something to see if you were fortunate enough to see it.”

Whether interacting with readers, clients, or his staff, Thiel made everyone feel important, Sciacca says.

“He just had this ability,” Sciacca says. “He was very humble … [and] he always wanted to shine the light on other people. He wanted people to be great, and he gave you the tools and then he let you be great. He believed in his staff, and that was one of the reasons I think he was very successful.”

Thiel knew everyone in the office, from the people in circulation to those in the mailroom, Byrne says, and about their families. Twice a summer, PMY would take all of the employees out on a boat test, from people in the mailroom to those in advertising and circulation.

“He’d just randomly go to someone in circulation and say, ‘Hey, do you want to drive the boat?’ ” Byrne recalls with a laugh. “They’d say, ‘I don’t know how to drive a boat!’ And he’d just say, ‘It’s OK, I’ll help you.’ For the rest of the ride he’d point out buoys or tell them to avoid something. Here they were having never driven a boat and having the time of their life. He had a genuine love of boating. He lived and ate and breathed boats. If somebody else was genuinely curious, he wanted to share it.”

Lina Khait was Thiel’s longtime assistant and says she will dearly miss him. “Richard was an incredible person, a real friend and an amazing boss. After working for him for many years, I can truly say that he was one of a kind,” Khait says.

When Kim Kavin left her executive editor job at a marine publication to work as a full-time freelancer, Thiel gave her her first break, she says. “The first time we sat down to talk, Richard told me, ‘When somebody good pops up, we like to snag them.’ He didn’t say, ‘We need this, so go do this, whether it’s a good fit for you or not.’ Instead, he asked, ‘What do you want to do? What do you think you’d be best at?’ ” Kavin recalls. “That’s a rather remarkable thing for an editor-in-chief to say to a freelancer. He engendered not only a sense of loyalty, but something more akin to family because he genuinely cared whether people were happy and fulfilled while getting the work of the day done.”

Raised in San Diego, Thiel grew up on boats — albeit mostly sailboats, according to Power & Motoryacht. He didn’t buy his first powerboat, a 19-foot SeaCraft center console, until after he moved to Jupiter, Fla., in 1980. But from the moment he launched Last Resort, he was hooked on powerboats — so much so that he decided to parlay his love of them and his experience as a diesel mechanic into a career as a freelance boating writer.

In 1981, with service as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam behind him, as well as a short stint in law enforcement in California, Boating magazine hired him as its technical editor and boat tester, and in 1984 he left to work briefly at Yachting magazine.

A couple of years later he was hired as executive editor of Power & Motoryacht, a position that necessitated a move to Stamford, Conn., where the magazine was based.

Richard assumed the editorship of PMY’s small-boat magazine, Motorboat, before becoming editor-in-chief of PMY. He always said it was a dream job and that “most days” he looked forward to going to work — especially when “work” was running a boat. He figured he’d tested about 500 during his career.

“The reason I have the position I have now is because of all the things he taught me and showed me,” Sciacca says. “He allowed me to grow and become editor-in-chief of my own magazine. Without his guidance and wisdom and knowledge and him sharing it and allowing me to grow, maybe I don’t have this job. Maybe I don’t get to do what I do. I really owe that man my career.”

Kavin also attributes a large part of her career to Thiel. “I couldn’t be more blessed with the way things have turned out, and it all started from that strong foundation that Richard helped me to build. That’s a rare and precious gift to receive from anyone in business, let alone somebody who also became a personal friend.

“In many ways, I feel like I owe him a huge part of my career, and I’m deeply saddened that my friend is gone,” Kavin adds.

In 2012 Thiel stepped down as editor-in-chief of PMY and was named editor-at-large, a role in which he continued to test boats, write articles for the magazine and website, and pen the very popular “Power & Propulsion” column for PMY.

Along the way he owned a number of powerboats, culminating with a wooden 18.5-foot Albury Brothers skiff on which he frequently cruised the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. In 2006 he realized a longtime dream by earning his Coast Guard OUPV captain’s license.

Thiel is survived by his wife, Christine, and daughter, Rikki Lee.

Sciacca says he received calls and text messages from around the world expressing condolences about Thiel’s death. “He had an effect not just on the industry, but on people. When all is said and done, that’s what it’s about — people,” Sciacca says. “He left a very strong mark on a lot of people’s lives in a great way. That’s a pretty good legacy. We should all be so lucky.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.

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