Capt. Richard Thiel, editor-at-large of Power & Motoryacht magazine, died Tuesday in Branford, Conn., due to complications from a stroke. He was 71.
Thiel, known affectionately in the industry 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 in the marine industry took instantly to social media to lament Thiel’s unexpected death, with several sharing photographic memories of time spent with him.
"Richard was a mentor and friend to many of us in this industry,” said George Sass, vice president, managing director of AIM’s Catapult Creative Labs, and former editorial director of the AIM Marine Group.
“In my opinion, there's not a boating magazine in this country that hasn't been influenced by Richard's innovation and quest to make a better boating magazine. I, like many of my peers, have such fond memories talking boats, politics, family, and just life with Richard well into the night. He was the glue in many of these enduring friendships. His integrity and talent will be sorely missed."
“He was a great friend, mentor and colleague and is sorely missed,” PMY digital editor John Turner told Trade Only Today.
Several others shared memories of Thiel’s legacy and the impression he made on those who knew him.
"During the financial crisis of 2008 the company that owned Power & Motoryacht [at the time] was laying off people right and left,” Turner said. “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.”
PMY senior editor Daniel Harding recalled 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,” said Harding, who also wrote a blog dedicated to Thiel on Tuesday. “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.”
Patrick Sciacca, editor-in-chief of Yachting magazine, says he has known Thiel for 17 years and worked with him at PMY for 12 of those.
“He loved the marine industry,” Sciacca told Trade Only. “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 on his first day on the job. That’s kind of special — that never waned for him. He completely loved this industry.”
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 a home,” Byrne said. “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.”
Thiel had a natural ability to connect with all people, from all walks of life, regardless of their background, Sciacca said.
“You know how there are people who are multilingual — they speak seven or eight languages? Richard could do that with people,” Sciacca said. “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.”
Working with Thiel wasn’t a typical editor-in-chief and junior editor relationship, Byrne said.
“There are some who are like: ‘I’m all the way up here, and you little people in the trenches do the work,’” Byrne said. “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.”
Whether interacting with readers, clients or his staff, Thiel made everyone feel important, Sciacca said.
“He just had this ability,” Sciacca said. “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 said, and about their families, as well. “He was always really friendly with people.”
Twice a summer, PMY would take all of its 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 recalled 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.”
Raised in San Diego, Thiel grew up on boats — mostly sailboats, according to Power & Motoryacht. He actually didn't purchase 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 behind him, as well as a short stint in law enforcement in California, he was hired by Boating magazine 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.
Thiel 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 said. “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.”
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 his current boat, 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 said he started receiving calls and text messages from around the world on Tuesday 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 said. “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.”