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Longtime Rhode Island harbor official dies at 97

Bill Muessel patrolled the harbor aboard boats such as the Capt. Jay O’Brien later in his career, helping boaters in jams.

William “Bill” Muessel, who spent three decades in the Lighthouse Service and Coastguard in Newport, R.I., and another three-and-a-half decades as Newport Harbor coordinator and assistant harbormaster, died April 15. He was 97.

His second career was longer than his first because he loved to stay busy, his son, Mike Muessel, told the Newport Daily News.

“He would stay out in the harbor all day, checking moorings, making sure the boats didn’t get tangled up,” Muessel told the paper.

The day after his 90th birthday, and two days after a big party with family and friends, Bill Muessel did what he had done since boyhood: He went to work.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked a Newport Daily News reporter at the time, in December 2008. “It’s what I do.”

He would often take the boat out on the harbor on his birthday, so deep was his attachment to it, said Mike Muessel, who also stayed close the water. He owns Oldport Marine in Newport.

During the boating season Bill Muessel patrolled the harbor aboard boats such as the Capt. Jay O’Brien later in his career, helping boaters in jams.

When Muessel started working for the city in 1974 he took the title of harbor coordinator, working with John Violet as harbormaster. “When I started, John had no office and worked out of his car,” Muessel had said. “It was a pretty small operation, no office or anything.”

Mike Muessel said his father set up a homemade desk in his boat, with his homemade sketches of every mooring on waterproof paper, accompanied by the number of the mooring and the name of the mooring’s owner. “This was before GPS,” he said.

Harbor Master Tim Mills has said that he wondered how he’d function without Bill Muessel. The man’s work ethic was remarkable, Mills said. As younger workers eyed the clock, Muessel would hang around an hour after his shift to straighten things up and compare notes.

He was also good at wedging boats into tight spots, helping to free trapped pleasure boats, Mills said.

He knew the history of the harbor, Mills said.

“He can tell you about every boat, every mooring.” Mills had said about his employee. “He will tell you how so-and-so owned this boat and then gave it to his son, and so on. He knows all this stuff. And it’s not something you’ll find in files.”

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