Robert T. Healey Sr, who co-founded Viking Yachts 57 years ago with his brother Bill and helped guide the New Gretna, N.J.-based builder to become the world’s largest manufacturer of sportfishing yachts, has died at the age of 92.
“My father was a true leader, and his vision will always guide us,” said son Robert Healey Jr. in a statement. “He believed that the people around him — his family, friends and employees — lifted him to success and it was his obligation to leave the world a better place.”
Before he made his mark as a boatbuilder, Healey was an accomplished attorney who practiced law for 25 years before devoting his time to the family business, of which the crown jewel was Viking Yachts. The brothers bought the company from a small builder of wooden craft in 1964 and soon were devoting their full energies to the boatbuilding business.
Healey will be remembered for many things — he was Viking’s Chairman of the Board for 57 years and served as the company’s lawyer, chief executive and ‘moneyman’ — but deserves to be honored for his ceaseless fight against the Federal Luxury Tax that decimated the yacht industry in the early 1990s.
“My uncle’s efforts to repeal the Federal Luxury Tax on yachts will never be forgotten,” said Viking Yachts President and CEO Pat Healey. “He saved not only Viking but the entire marine industry. He was the catalyst and leader, and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He was a brilliant lawyer and savvy businessman who was able to convince the politicians in Washington that this was very much a jobs issue. It was about good hardworking people losing their ability to provide for their families.”
Across the industry, thousands of people were furloughed, with hundreds of companies put out of business. According to Viking, they nearly were bankrupted, forced to close its Florida facility and reduced to only 65 boatbuilders from a high of 1,500 employees.
Healey was relentless in his efforts, helping to organize busloads of out-of-work boatbuilders to converge on Capitol Hill, even setting fire to a boat on a barge in Narragansett Bay as protest. The tax was repealed 20 months later in 1993.
“It was a great victory for our family-owned-and-operated boatbuilding company, the people of New Jersey and everyone in the marine industry,” said Pat Healey.
From there, the company never looked back on its way to becoming an industry leader. In 2003, the brothers were inducted into the National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame for their outstanding contributions to the marine industry and in 2019, awarded the IBI-Metstrade Boat Builder Lifetime Achievement Award.
“My father always said, ‘We’ve worked hard to get to the top of the mountain, we’re enjoying the view and we’re not going to give it up,’” said Bob Jr., co-chairman of the Viking Group.
In lieu of flowers, Bob requested donations to charities supported by The Robert T Healey Sr. Charitable Trust, which include the Healey International Relief Foundation (www.hirf.net), the Healey Education Foundation (www.healeyedfoundation.org), and the Gleneayre Equestrian Program (www.gepnj.org).