Happy Birthday Thad Koza and RIP

Thad Koza by Peter Mello

If you are a regular visitor to the Sea-Fever blog, you’ll note that I haven’t posted in some time. The initial reason was that we were at 999 posts and I wanted to do something special to commemorate 1000; a waypoint that most blogs never log.

Then, last month I learned that my friend, colleague, tall ship photographer and master storyteller Thad Koza passed away after a quick attack and short battle with cancer. There was then no question in my mind that I should dedicate the 1,000th Sea-Fever post, and all that went before, to him. Today would have been his 70th birthday.

When I arrived at the American Sail Training Association in 2001, there was the official “crew” and then there was Thad. He would come into the office nearly every day and the staff (aka Lori) would help him out with this or that and he would make small talk and we all would learn more about a tall ship or a crew member or a port. It seemed a little odd at first but in short order I recognized that this relationship was special and that Thad was, in fact, a very important, contributing member of our team.  He would celebrate birthdays with us and attend our staff Holiday parties. He’d even participate in the office Secret Santa and one year I gave him the url ThadKoza.com; I then spent about 5 years trying to get him to use it.

I took the above photograph in 2006 at the parade of sail for the Cleveland Harborfest/TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE. Over the years, I had the honor and privilege of working closely with Thad prior to and during Tall Ships events. Sometimes it would be with the media and other times it would be at presentations to smaller groups at yacht clubs or museums. He’d talk tall ships and I’d talk sail training and the history of ASTA. I always enjoyed these times together and learned something new at every one.

One of the top highlights of my professional career was writing the foreword to Thad’s very popular book, Tall Ships: The Fleet for the 21st Century. If you don’t own a copy of this classic, you should!

Thad was a big bear of a man and like all big bears, he could have a gruff, growl. But that was part of his charm. He was really more like a friendly Berenstain than a big, bad grizzly.

After I left ASTA, Thad and I would talk a couple of times a year by phone. We kept trying to arrange a meeting where would could begin work on a new website to promote his extraordinary archive of tall ships photography. Sadly, it never happened. In every single one of those conversations, Thad would start out by asking me about my children, Luke and Joy, and, frankly, that’s what I will always remember him for most. He was a true, caring, giving friend.

My favorite Thad Koza photograph is one he took of Luke at about 6 months old at a party aboard the Stad Amsterdam in Newport.

Thad had many, many friends across the globe that are missing him today and while his extraordinary body of tall ship photography will live on and fulfill his legacy, most will remember him for being a caring, giving man.

Sea-Fever explores maritime culture and I can think of no better way to celebrate 1000 posts than remembering my friend Thad Koza, a man who did more to promote tall ships, sail training and maritime culture than anyone I’ve ever known.

Happy Birthday and Fair Winds Shipmate!