Beloved benefactor dies

Tugboat company owner Ray Hickey gave millions to Clark County projects, causes




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Ray Hickey, former owner of Vancouver-based Tidewater Barge Lines and a prominent Clark County philanthropist, died Wednesday at his Washougal home. He was 82.

Hickey’s passing was unexpected, although likely due to heart-related illness, said his daughter, Linda Hickey of Portland. Hickey is also survived by two additional children — Cindy Hickey-Nesbitt of Vancouver and Wes Hickey of Maui, Hawaii — and seven grandchildren. His ex-wife Jean Adair lives in Battle Ground.

Hickey sold Tidewater, a Columbia River tugboat and barge company, in 1996, and he used the wealth he created to help others. Hickey contributed more than $20 million to support local projects and causes, among them, about $1.5 million worth of land donated for the Waterfront Renaissance Trail along the Columbia River shoreline; a $1.5 million contribution to jointly develop the Ray Hickey Hospice House with the Southwest Washington Medical Center Foundation and large contributions to the YWCA Clark County, the Columbia Land Trust and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

“Ray has affected thousands and thousands of people in our region,” said Royce Pollard, former Vancouver Mayor, who added that Hickey did much of his giving anonymously.

“He never looked for publicity,” Pollard said of the former tugboat fleet owner.

In 2005, Hickey’s nonprofit, The Ray Hickey Foundation, was honored at the Oregon Philanthropy Awards, a yearly honor bestowed upon an elite group of givers including the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

“I hope that what people remember most was his empathy for others. He was a very grateful person for what he had in his life, for his opportunities, and he used that to make a difference,” said Linda Hickey, who also serves as vice president of the Hickey Family Co., a Vancouver property management company, and director of The Ray Hickey Foundation.

Youngest of 10

Ray Hickey was born on Oct. 1, 1927, in Victor, Mont. He was the youngest of 10 children born to Clara and Wesley Hickey, who moved their family to Wallace, Idaho, in 1936, during the Great Depression.

In Idaho, Hickey’s father worked in the ore-mining industry. His mother was a homemaker, said Linda Hickey.

He was raised to respect and honor his parents, Hickey told The Columbian in 2005.

“My parents were great examples. It never entered my mind that we wouldn’t have food or clothes,” he said.

He quit high school in the 10th grade and joined the US Marine Corps in 1945 at the tail end of World War II.

“He (Hickey) was a very patriotic man and a member of the Greatest Generation,” said Kim Hash, director of the Celebrate Freedom Program at the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

Hickey established an endowment in 2000 for the program, which oversees Vancouver’s patriotic events such as the Flag Day celebration, Veteran’s Day Parade and the annual July 4th fireworks show, which is set to resume this year after a 2009 hiatus.

Hickey also supplied the barge platform for Vancouver’s July 4 fireworks display, which launched from the anchored vessel on the Columbia River.

“He (Hickey) was a big, big supporter of ours. He put in the initial funding and encouraged others to join in,” Hash said.

Climb to the top

Friends say Hickey’s generosity was contagious.

“He (Hickey) was highly regarded by his peers because he was recognized as being both high on integrity and high on ability,” said Ed Lynch, a Vancouver businessman, philanthropist and one of Hickey’s contemporaries.

But Lynch said he was most impressed by Hickey’s career at Tidewater, a company he purchased in 1983.

Hickey started with the company as a deckhand in 1951, after a three-year post-war stint working for an Idaho mining company. Hickey had answered a newspaper ad for the deckhand position. The job paid $10 per hour and his first work rotation lasted 50 days.

“He is one of four businessmen that I cherish who rose out of a high school education and made it big time as an entrepreneur,” Lynch said.

But Hickey did believe in education, according to his self-written memoir, “Don’t Tell Me It Can’t Be Done: Your Career Is Your Ship — You Be the Captain,” published in 2008.

“I got my education in other ways,” Hickey, who had some training in diesel mechanics after the war, said in his book.

The diesel mechanics training earned Hickey a promotion to the engine room at Tidewater and from there, he kept going, becoming the company’s general manager in 1970, its president in 1977 and its owner in 1983.

Hickey sold Tidewater to the private investment group Tidewater Holdings in 1996. Terms of the deal, which included 16 tugboats and about 120 barges were not disclosed.

In 2005, Endeavour Capital purchased Tidewater, which had become a multi-commodity transportation and terminal company serving the Pacific Northwest from five terminals located in Vancouver, Pasco and Clarkston, as well as Boardman and Umatilla in Oregon.

Although Hickey retired several years ago, he continued to work through his Vancouver-based nonprofit, The Ray Hickey Foundation, and his property management firm, Hickey Family Co., up to the day he died, Linda Hickey said.

She has received numerous messages that her father will not be forgotten as a philanthropist and self-made businessman.

“He still was actively involved in a couple of things,” she said, including plans for a second Hospice House in Portland to be developed jointly with the Southwest Washington Medical Center Foundation of Vancouver.

Hickey recently donated the lead funding gift for the Portland project, said Linda Hickey, adding that her father was a fan of the Hospice program, which cared for some of his older siblings.

“As the youngest of 10, he saw the value and the comfort of it,” she said.

Lynch added that Hickey was a person who cared about the community and cared about the future.

“When he saw something as the right thing to do, he did it,” Lynch said.

Vancouver city manager Pat McDonnell agreed. He called Hickey “an extraordinary person,” adding that Hickey’s life and work would have a lasting effect on the community.

“The City of Vancouver extends its deepest condolences to his family. As we mourn his passing, we express our appreciation for all he has done for this community. Ray Hickey will not be forgotten,” McDonnell said.

A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. April 24 at the Vancouver First Church of God at 3300 N.E. 78th St. in Vancouver. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to YWCA Clark County, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation and The Ray Hickey Hospice House.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story has been changed to list the correct charities for donations to be made in Ray Hickey’s name.