Obituary Notices

Capt. Bill Judd, Longtime Cincinnati River Industry Icon, Dies At Age 87

Capt. Willam F. “Bill” Judd, prominent retired marine surveyor in the Cincinnati area, passed away March 9 at age 87.

Capt. Bill Judd

Beginning when he was a very young man, Judd would spend time at Capt. John Beatty’s landing above Cincinnati, and he naturally began spending time on Beatty’s boats as a deckhand and learning to be a pilot. He also spent some summers as a deckhand for The Ohio River Company, since his family knew some of the executives there. He was sent to the Illinois River his first summer working for them, but the next year was spent on the Ohio aboard the sternwheel steamer Charles Dorrance.

The Judd family had a summer camp and landing near Eight Mile Creek, Mile 457 Ohio River, and Bill would often row a yawl out to passing boats and ride a short distance up or down stream, becoming familiar with many captains, pilots and other crew members. In 1949, he and his father were present when Sohio Petroleum christened the new Sohio Cleveland at Cincinnati. Within a couple of years, it had been sold to Ashland Oil & Refining Company, becoming the first Valvoline. (When the new Valvoline was christened at Covington, Ky., in 1987, Judd would also be there in the crowd.) He also spent time as pilot aboard the Alton Zephyr of Comet River Company, a division of Tresler Oil, Cincinnati.

Following his marriage to the former Darlene Hill, Judd formed a company of his own, known as Judd Marine. For more than 50 years, Judd Marine provided marine surveying, core drilling and other services to the river industry. Capt. Alan Bernstein of BB Riverboats often utilized Judd Marine when surveys were needed, or to avail himself of Bill’s expertise when looking to acquire river equipment.

“I was devastated to hear of Bill Judd’s death,” Bernstein said. “He was not only a great surveyor, but a great friend as well. His survey reports could always be counted on to be honest and accurate. The Cincinnati river community has lost a big asset.”

Capt. Robert “Bob” Harrison, of Bellaire Harbor Service, Bellaire, Ohio, grew up in the Cincinnati area, and his family had a marina along the river on the Kentucky side. Harrison said that as a young man he would often take a jon boat up to Judd’s landing at Eight Mile to visit with Capt. Bill, who always had time for the young river enthusiast. Several years ago, Harrison bought the sternwheeler Reed Lee and restored its original name of Sewickley. “Bill was very happy about that, since he had owned it before it had become the Reed Lee and had left the original name at the request of Capt. Fred Way,” Harrison said.

Both Capt. Bill and Darlene Judd were very active in the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. Darlene was on the J. Mack Gamble Fund committee for many years, and Bill had served on the S&D Board of Governors for some 32 years, many of those years as chairman. He had recently stepped down from his position, but the board named him chairman emeritus. Over the years, Judd has authored several pieces for the organization quarterly, the S&D Reflector. He was also very active in the Propeller Club at Cincinnati, and he served on a Harbor Safety Committee.

Judd was proud of the fact that he was one of the oldest and longest subscribers to The Waterways Journal, having taken the magazine for more than 70 years.

This writer first met Capt. Judd more than 50 years ago when Judd Marine was involved in core drilling for a bridge over the Big Sandy River at Catlettsburg, Ky. The equipment had been towed to Catlettsburg by their towboat/houseboat Three Bills, and the Judd family—Capt. Bill, Darlene and their young son—were all aboard. Following school, after having met them at Merdie Boggs & Sons the night before, I walked over to the riverbank to see what was going on. Capt. Bill saw and recognized me, then rowed a yawl over and took me out to see the operation. He later rowed me back to the bank. In recent years he had joked that if there were any rowing involved now, I would have to do it.

Through the ensuing years I became very close to Bill and Darlene Judd. When the Tall Stacks events began at Cincinnati, Judd devised a traffic coordination system staffed by licensed river pilots that monitored and controlled the movement of the participating excursion and cruise boats and served as coordinators for commercial traffic passing through the area. This system was hailed by both the Coast Guard and the river industry as being one of the main reasons these large events took place in a safe and efficient manner. I was pleased to have worked with Capt. Judd in these efforts. When I began writing the Old Boat column in this publication, Bill was an ardent supporter of those efforts and was always quick to provide material, memories and advice.

Many years ago, Capt. Bill and Darlene remodeled and expanded a house on some riverfront land just above New Richmond, Ohio, at Mile 448.6 Ohio River, which they called Judd’s Home Port. With a long porch facing the river, it became their window on the world, with many passing vessels blowing whistle salutes to them while passing. In May 2023, Darlene, herself a licensed pilot, passed away after 65 years of marriage. Soon after, facing some health issues of his own, Capt. Judd moved to a nearby assisted living facility. The family reports that he passed away peacefully early the morning of March 9.

Capt. Bill Judd is survived by son William M. Judd II and wife Brenda; grandsons Wiliam C. Judd and David J. Judd and two great-grandchildren. Grandson David had purchased the riverfront home when Bill moved, so it would please Capt. Bill to know that passing traffic can still blow a whistle salute at Judd’s Home Port.