Obituary Notices

Erston Reisch Jr., Who Led Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla, Dies In New Orleans

Erston Reisch Jr. passed away on January 7 after a short illness. He was 83 years old.

After serving in the Coast Guard as an engineman, Reisch attended Tulane University, where he earned a degree in business administration. While at Tulane he was captain of the Sailing Club and worked several jobs at Niebel Towing, where he exhibited skills repairing vessels and solving problems.

Turning down a promotion, Reisch instead formed his own company, Valve Actuators Company (VAC), and developed a long relationship with Rotork Inc., an English company, and later with Sea Truck of England and Biffi Valve of Italy. His ability to innovate enabled his company to prosper, particularly working in the oil and gas industry, where VAC became one of the premier instrumentation and actuation companies. NASA called on his expertise to solve a leaking valve problem on the space shuttle.

He was named a Senior Fellow of the Instrument Society of America and was a driving force in bringing its International Expo to New Orleans.

As his company grew, he built warehouses in Elmwood Business Park near the Huey Long Bridge, where he helped organize the Elmwood Business Association. He stored many Southern Yacht Club (SYC) boats in his warehouses during hurricanes. A member of SYC for 64 years, he worked with Jack Dane to reorganize the Cruising Class and received the Earl of Lacombe Trophy twice. He sailed in the Gulfport to Pensacola race more than 35 times and over the years would win virtually all of the regattas across Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf Coast.

Encouraged to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary, he served as flotilla commander and, after 9/11, was recruited by Reservist Jimmy Duckworth to participate in the joint port security group.

Before cruise ships landed, Reisch would inspect docks, and he would provide a Coast Guard presence until the ships departed.

After suffering a stroke in 2002, Reisch continued a fairly active schedule and, with the aid of his wife, Karen, almost constantly by his side, they would also ride Coast Guard vehicles on Mississippi River levees twice a week, patrolling between the Sunshine Bridge and Venice, La., and work many hours at the Regional Exam Center.

Erston and Karen posted fliers printed by the Bar Pilots in English and Vietnamese on docks, urging fishermen not to cut in front of commercial vessels. They learned that when a Vietnamese fishing boat was not catching much it was thought to have “bad karma.” Cutting in front of a larger vessel passed that bad karma on. It was a cultural thing, and it was a big problem for many years.

The Reiches passed this finding to the Coast Guard. In response, the Coast Guard asked commercial vessels to report fishing vessels cutting in front and to include the number on the house. If any vessel was reported too many times, it would be seized.  The word spread quickly, and because of the work of the Reisches, the incidence of fishing boats cutting in front of commercial vessels quickly subsided.

Together, the Reisches responded to 911 calls under Capt. Frank Paskewich for 12 weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, including towing boats to rescue sites, cooking meals for volunteers and storing smaller boats until the owners could be identified.

Through his relationship with Duckworth, Reisch worked twice a week for 2-1/2 years to build a landing craft that that is now on display at the World War II museum.  A plaque at the nationally renowned museum recognizes the work of Erston and Karen Reisch.