Reporting death is the worst part of this job. No matter how many times you do it—and my fellow offshoreonly.com contributor and speedonthewater.com co-publisher Jason Johnson and I have done it a lot—everything about the process is horrible. You need to be timely but you can’t rush anyone involved, especially surviving family members. You need to be factual but you can’t be insensitive.
And when you knew and were genuinely fond of the person who died, you must cope with your own sadness without losing sight of the work at hand. Your job is to professionally report difficult news. Your emotions don’t matter—they only get in the way of what you have to do.
Such was the case late last week when Johnson and I reported the death of Joe Curran, the 55-year-old chief operating officer of Iconic Marine Group, the Washington, N.C.-based parent company of the Baja, Donzi and Fountain powerboat brands.
Earlier in the week, I’d sent Curran a text message about a performance-oriented center console roundup Johnson and I are planning for speedonthewater.com this summer. I was about to bug him about it again last Wednesday when a text from Martin Rusin, the company’s public relations man, appeared on my phone.
I assumed the text had something to do with the roundup. I was wrong. So Johnson and I went to work and reported the death of another friend.
But here’s what we didn’t report, because it wasn’t appropriate for a news story.
Joe Curran was bright and loveable—and funny as hell. His wit ran from bone dry to dripping sarcasm, and he had a super-keen sense for the ironic. He did not suffer fools gladly.
When Curran arrived at the Fountain plant in 2016, he found himself treading water in a sea of dysfunction. All the brands were in various states of forced dormancy and the company’s corporate culture was less than buttoned up. Bankruptcy followed by years of litigation all but destroyed what was one of the most successful high-performance powerboat companies in history.
With unfailing support from Iconic Marine Group owner/managing partner Fred Ross, Curran identified the growth areas and got busy. From recreating a true dealer network with floor-plan financing to adding new models, he focused on the bigger and smaller pictures. He didn’t have much experience in the high-performance powerboat segment, but Curran was a savvy marine industry pro so he didn’t take a lot of time getting up to speed.
And he never lost his sense of humor along the way. More often than not, our conversations went completely off the rails after we finished with whatever business we had to discuss. No topic was out of bounds. But when it came to opinions he solicited on business issues such as new-model introductions Curran wanted unflinching honesty. Nothing else was useful to him.
One more thing endearing about Joe Curran? He never failed to mention his wife, Julie. He brought her up so often I felt I knew her—if only a little—though we’ve never met. I got the feeling he loved her very, very much.
On his way out of the third annual Speed On The Water Marine Industry Cocktail Party during the Miami International Boat Show last month, Curran stopped to say goodbye to Johnson and me.
“When I retire—again—I want to come back and work for you guys,” he said, then laughed hard. “You have the life.”
Of course, we didn’t argue with him. Curran was right. We do have the life. Because of people like him.
So rest in peace, dear friend. You never were an average Joe.