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Henk van Hemmen. Past President of Martin & Ottaway 1932-2010

HENK VAN HEMMEN (1932-2010)

Henk van Hemmen was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on August 10, 1932 to Hendrik Fokko and Grietje van Hemmen.  His father was a blacksmith while he studied to become a ship’s engineer and eventually became a Chief Engineer for the Oranje Lijn. His mother was a homemaker, who provided Henk with the personal energy that became his hallmark in adulthood.

He grew up in Rotterdam where he witnessed the bombing of that city in May 1940 during the German invasion of Holland.

To be more secure, to be nearer to his parent’s families, and to remove his father from the attention of the German Merchant Navy, the family spent the majority of the war in the city of Groningen in the northern part of The Netherlands, where the family grew with the addition of his brother Ed.

After the war he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and entered the Merchant Marine Academy, Rotterdam to study marine engineering and graduated top in his class.

He was hired as an engineering officer by the Holland America Line and sailed in various engineering officer positions aboard the company’s freight and passenger vessels, including the fleet’s flagship the SS “NIEUW AMSTERDAM”.

He met his wife Geertruida “Trudy” Sabina Teffer in Amsterdam, married her in Schiedam in 1955 and children Annemarie, Rik and Pim followed in 1958, 1960, and 1961.

He was a hilarious father and, with Trudy, he threw the kids into adventure after adventure, ranging from camping trips in totally unsuitable overloaded cars towing homebuilt trailers, to boat construction projects in the basement of an apartment building.

He was called shoreside by the Holland America Line and joined the Owner’s construction team for the company’s new flagship the SS “ROTTERDAM”. Upon completion of this ship he became a ship superintendent (port engineer) where he oversaw maintenance of 20 plus ships in the Holland America Line fleet.  He was an innovator in ship’s maintenance and developed novel methods for increasing the efficiencies of ship’s maintenance and repair procedures. In 1967 he was instrumental in managing a boiler failure crisis on the SS “NIEUW AMSTERDAM” by replacing the original boilers with surplus US Navy boilers and achieved this by engaging all possible resources within reach of the company and the maritime community at the lowest cost and saved the vessel from being scrapped. The vessel continued to sail and to be loved by thousands of additional passengers until 1975.

This project brought him to the attention of the greater maritime community and in 1968 he joined the United States Salvage Association, a technical consulting company that supported the US marine underwriting industry. He advanced rapidly to become the resident surveyor for Rotterdam, which at that time was the largest port in the world and he was involved in projects on a worldwide basis.

In 1976 he was promoted by the USSA to become the Vice President of US operations, which meant he and Trudy and the kids emigrated to the United States.

The family arrived in the United States on July 1, 1976 and settled in Shrewsbury, New Jersey and the family continues to call Monmouth County their home to this day.

He quickly was promoted to Vice President and Chief Surveyor, but in 1980 he was asked by Harry Ottaway, the owner of Francis A. Martin & Ottaway, Inc. to join that firm as a consultant on maritime technical, operational and financial matters.

This firm was established in 1875 by a grand nephew of Robert Fulton and today has a worldwide reputation for assisting shipowners, financial institutions, underwriters, attorneys, shipbuilders and regulatory agencies with complex maritime issues. In an unusual link with Monmouth County the firm had represented the owners of the SS “MORRO CASTLE” with the vessel disposal and insurance claims after the vessel beached at Asbury Park, NJ in 1934.

Henk’s involvement in this firm was one of the most important factors in the growth of the firm’s reputation and in 1983 he became a partner in the firm and in 1993 he became the majority Owner.

Henk’s deep international experience, technical ability and lifelong maritime exposure allowed the firm to successfully accept assignments that were generally characterized as: “Emergencies or damages too complex for routine treatment and subject to severe financial damages to the client if not successfully resolved”.

In the marine industry that means that Henk and Martin & Ottaway were generally front row in the resolution of issues that are now identified by ship names such as the “EXXON VALDEZ”, “PRESTIGE” and the “ANDREW J. BARBERI”.

There are very few shipowners, ship operators, underwriters, shipbuilders and admiralty attorneys who have not at one time or another had the benefit of Henk’s sagacity. Henk was always friendly with all his clients and adversaries, but also thoroughly enjoyed his nickname “Dutch Uncle”. His advice was always innovative, but even more importantly deeply ethical and fair and filled with the belief that there is a solution to all problems.

Some of his pronouncements have become legendary in the industry and often they were simple: “Stick to the ground rules”, “Write it up as a field survey, and solve it jointly”, “ Call me before the ship sinks” and sometimes ponderable: “Keep the church in the middle of the street” and “Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve”.

His writings were related to these subjects with paper titles such as; “Call them as you see them” and “The Art of saying No!” He was an engineer through and through and a member of many technical societies, and loved ships and technology, but had a deep awareness that it was not design, but rather humans, that made all things work whether at sea, in a bank, or at an insurance office.

He was Chairman of the Association of Average Adjusters of the United States and he felt it was deeply meaningful that this association mixed technical, legal and underwriter leadership and focused on resolution of maritime issues using a combination of historical, and innovative methods using a process that originated thousands of years ago.

He had a fierce belief in young professionals and was famous for mentoring a massive amount of young professionals (and some older ones too) in the marine industry who were fiercely loyal once they realized that this unusual man was both more than willing to throw them into the most difficult situations and at the same time was always there if, despite all he taught them, they felt they needed his help. His ability to interact with young professionals was related to his total lack of pretense and his joy at learning while they were learning. He supported his belief in youth by repeating time and time again that the Battle of Britain was won by 18 year olds. In training his juniors he was adamant that he expected them to be better and improved versions of himself.

Despite his generally cheerful nature, he very much disliked the inefficiency and drudgery of the daily commute between lower Manhattan and Monmouth County and when the conditions were right, in 1995, he moved the office with all its employees, to Red Bank, New Jersey.

In many ways this was a culmination of all his dreams, because he now could enjoy his work, his family and his many hobbies without having to involve himself with commuter distractions and at the same time it would allow his employees to achieve the same level of family comfort.

The firm’s move to Red Bank, by any standard, was a huge success, and greatly strengthened the company. When not traveling for business or pleasure with his wife Trudy, he could now spend more time playing with his boat, build boats with his grandchildren and other kids, make maritime paintings for his friends and family, and enjoy the pleasures of the Jersey Shore and his adopted country.

Throughout his life he was first a family man and he and his wife Trudy were blessed with a close family including daughters in law Anne and Jeanne-Marie, five grandchildren Hendrik (Jake), Hannah, Abby, Helena and Kees, and siblings and cousins all over the world. These family members often congregated at faraway places with Henk expounding on the good fortune they all shared. He had countless friends that he made in the often unusual circumstances that his work entailed and loved staying in touch with them whether by internet or actual visits. His favorite greeting was: “How are you doing my friend” and used that greeting on friends and family alike.

In 2003, based on his accomplishments in the Maritime Field, he was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame.

In his systematic way he organized the succession of the company to ensure its continued success, and gradually reduced his involvement in the firm to allow his junior partners to carry on the work.

However, he continued to be a presence in the company and could always be counted on when there was excessive workload or a crisis that he could assist with. During those visits he often commented on his joy on seeing all this activity within his family, his company, his town, his state, his country and his world, all of which he admired and enjoyed so much.

On March 2, 2010 he last visited the office where, coincidentally, a large number of the employees were present rather than at the far flung locations they are so often scattered and he had a chat with all of them.

On his way home he suffered a stroke. Methodical to the last, he used his cell phone to set in action an orderly chain of events that led to his peaceful passing on March 3, 2010 surrounded by his family.