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Vessel Operations Manager Merrilee Gorman is ‘deeply concerned with doing the right things the right way.’

Vessel Operations Manager Merrilee Gorman began her career at Tropical Shipping 38 years ago as a File Clerk in Accounting.

“When I first started at Tropical, it was just an office job in the Accounting Department. But the longer I worked here, the more I noticed it’s not just a job—Tropical cares about its employees.”

Now the company’s Vessel Operations Manager, she’s the recipient of the 2021–2022 Mike Garvey Award for Distinguished Service in Safety. This award recognizes a commitment to safety over many years.

Gorman’s migration from accounting to operations was gradual. She’s held a half-dozen positions during her Tropical tenure—including stops in Documentation, Customer Service, and Dispatch—taking on varying degrees of responsibility and eventually transitioning into Operations.

“I feel so privileged to work in Operations. Operations is the real challenge, and we have an outstanding team here. Building crews that work together and all strive for the same results can be difficult.”

Gorman was nominated by her manager, U.S. Terminal Operations Director Claude Clevinger.

“Merrilee…is committed to safety and excellence in all she does, and she lives out that commitment daily in her role as yard manager for Tropical’s terminal operation at the Port of Palm Beach, Florida. She is deeply concerned with doing the right things the right way.”

Clevinger explained Gorman oversees the activity of three supervisors and seven crews of stevedoring employees—each crew consisting of a crane operator, two strad operators, and two ground crew—operating over two shifts each day.

“Merrilee doesn’t just talk the talk—she walks the walk,” Clevinger continued, noting Gorman’s daily interactions with each crew in their respective work areas.

To beat the heat, I’ll bring watermelon, popsicles, or Gatorade and pass them out during the hottest time of the day.”

“I make it a point to stay in touch (throughout the day),” Gorman said. “(The crews) are in the field through all weather conditions except lightning. In the summertime, we have a lot of days when the temperature creeps past 90 degrees and quite a few afternoon thunderstorms…They are right there to continue working to ensure the vessels stay on schedule. To beat the heat, I’ll bring watermelon, popsicles, or Gatorade and pass them out during the hottest time of the day.”

Gorman has come full circle in her understanding of how operations affect every aspect of the business.

“These guys are here until the job gets done. They are so accommodating and dependable. Without them, I’m sure we wouldn’t have the success we do.”

For Gorman, safety—the innate instinct to care deeply about the well-being of the person working alongside you—is first about establishing a bond.

“I remember, years ago, I made a bet with a co-worker on a Miami Dolphins versus New England Patriots (football) game. The loser had to sing the winning team’s fight song every hour on the hour. I lost. I’m not a ‘Dolfan,’ but I got the music for the Miami fight song and sang every hour. It seemed like every hour, the crowd grew.”

Once the bond is established, Gorman said, safety becomes a matter of daily reminders.

“You can’t just not talk about safety and hope for the best. It must be preached and practiced to remain fresh in everyone’s mind. Every morning, I hold pre-shift meetings with all the crews. We discuss the workload for the day and any concerns anyone may have. Our meetings end with safety, and we always voice the same reminders: ‘Blow your horn at the reefer line.’ ‘Obey the stop bars.’ ‘Obey the speed limit.’ And, of course, ‘Watch your digits.’”

“I never thought when I started as a File Clerk in 1984 that I would one day be the Vessel Operations Manager. I was slightly hesitant about working in a ‘Man’s World,’ but I’ve never regretted it. Not for one minute. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been mentored by the best in the industry and to work alongside a great group of people who’ve taught me to step out of my comfort zone. You set your own limits. And most importantly, the people alongside you are some of your greatest assets.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.