Tacoma mourns passing of historian Ron Magden

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Dr. Ron Magden gave the keynote address in 2011 at the 125th anniversary celebration of the founding of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), chronicling the key events and figures in the local’s 125-year history. Photo courtesy of www.ilwu.org
Dr. Ron Magden gave the keynote address in 2011 at the 125th anniversary celebration of the founding of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), chronicling the key events and figures in the local’s 125-year history. Photo courtesy of www.ilwu.org

Tacoma’s maritime community suffered a big loss with the recent death of local historian Dr. Ron Magden. He was 92.

Magden was a longtime friend of the Tacoma longshore, the Port of Tacoma and the working waterfront. He knew that by learning lessons from the past, we could help shape the future.

Magden was a labor historian and history professor at Tacoma Community College for many years. In 1982, he co-authored the book “The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma’s Ships and Men.” Phil Lelli, a longtime Tacoma longshore worker and leader, had the original idea for the book. Pacific Lutheran University professor A.D. Martinson was the book’s co-author.

Magden later updated and expanded that book and published “The Working Longshoreman” in 1991. The Port of Tacoma purchased many copies of both books and Port staff still use them as important reference sources today. Over the years, Magden also wrote many articles for the Port’s Pacific Gateway magazine.

His knowledge, interest and passion for the Port’s historical development and the people behind those developments was unsurpassed. Over the years, we interviewed Magden many times to help the Port tell various stories and gain insights into the people, companies and developments that have helped shape our working waterfront.

Magden is featured in a video that highlights the history of the Kaiser aluminum plant in Tacoma. He is part of the award-winning “Proud Past, Promising Future” video that was produced during the Port’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1993 and in the Port’s centennial video that debuted at Tacoma Historical Society’s Destiny Dinner in October 2018. Magden was a former president of the society and contributed his expertise to the organization as a speaker, author, member of the collections committee and donor of artifacts.

The relationship Magden had with the Tacoma longshore and with the Port was personal and very cooperative. He knew that great things could always happen – on Tacoma’s waterfront and elsewhere – when people worked together towards a common goal.

Perhaps he sums it up best in “The Working Longshoreman” book when he states, “Union longshoremen and the Port of Tacoma share the common goals of developing their magnificent harbor and maintaining an efficient and stable work force. Working together, they benefit not only waterfront workers and the shipping industry, but the entire community they serve.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Ron and Phil Lelli together welcomed me in to the world of longshore workers and the Port of Tacoma, when I came to start UW Tacoma in the fall of 1990. He was always a friend and always a fellow historian ready to help with good words, stories, and insights. Losing him is a library burning down. But much to celebrate.

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