Life on the river boasts many traditions, and one of the most treasured is that of the mentor. While the exact process or definition of a mentorship can be elusive, that time honored tradition of a more experienced crew member helping to guide a less experienced crew member over time lives on today, and is still being passed on to our next generation of river folk!
Today’s Mentor Monday features the reflections of Trip Captain & Pilot Brandon Phillips, sharing with us the story of his mentor, Chief Engineer Jerome Price!
“I started working on boats in August of 2002. When I am asked to talk about my mentor, I reflect on my nearly eighteen year career. It is a daunting task. I’ve had so many along the way. Some good, some bad. People like Bill Tracy my First Fleet boat captain, or Ross Young my First Line boat mate, and Jimmy Cheatham the Captain who gave me an opportunity to become a towboat Pilot. We are like a family out here, regardless whether you work on a tug, lineboat or passenger vessel.
We form tight bonds that last a lifetime. It’s not just a tradition to mentor new guys. It is a requirement. If you’re unwilling to pass along the knowledge you have gained, everyone suffers, we lose something important. Once it’s gone it can’t be had again. It is our duty to pass on to the next generation of mariners our knowledge, tricks, and stories.
If I had to pick just one mentor who has had the most impact on my life and my career, it would be Jerome Price. I first met Jerome while working on a casino boat for Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino.
He was the lead Assistant Engineer on day shift. At the time, I was too young to work on the boat, but I had a goal to be a deckhand as soon as I turned eighteen. Six months of working on land as a valet, I finally transferred to the deck department on the boat. Jerome was well known. Jerome has a reputation for being a joker, but also the man to go to for difficult tasks. He used to joke around about always using the right tool for the job, sometimes a hammer is the right tool and anything can be used as a hammer. Jerome has been recognized for his hard work and efforts multiple times. The time that I remember most is when we had a fan coil unit on the third deck catch fire!
Jerome moved a slot player who could care less the ceiling was on fire, and Jerome accessed the overhead compartment, and extinguished the fire before it could spread. This kind of dedication wasn’t uncommon for him. Several years later, Jerome and I happened to work at the same Volunteer Fire Department. He has helped countless people and saved me a time or two.
The method Jerome uses to mentor isn’t the most common. He likes to give you as much information as possible and guide you in the right decision. He was, and is, an expert at seeing all sides of the coin, seeing things from others perspective creating a great learning environment.
Once while replacing some wires in the overhead, I was in a hurry and took a short cut that ended up causing me to get zapped. First thing out of his mouth was, “Did you lock out and tag out?” Of course not, I said. I knew better. Well, I guess not.
He never let someone fail to the point they couldn’t recover. It didn’t take long once I transferred to the engine room for both of us to realize I had no mechanical ability at all. Regardless, he tried his best to train me. He saw my love of boats, and would always talk about the times when the Par-A-Dice still cruised the Illinois River. Then, he would talk about if he were younger, he’d give towboating a try. I think he was always trying to push me to try something new and better myself. I eventually did.
I continued working with Jerome off and on over the years in different jobs. I had formed a friendship and a bond that still exists today. I’ve always been a slow learner, but Jerome has been a persistent teacher. There were some rough years for me.
Once I finally started to listen to Jerome ‘keep your mouth shut, head down and worry about doing the very best you can do every watch, and life will be much easier,’ (a phrase I’ve used a time or two since) things did eventually get easier.
I spent a long time as a deckhand but once I heeded the advice I was offered, I began to move up fast. As an added bonus I discovered a love for towboating that I never knew existed. In less than three years after that lesson, I would find myself learning to be a lineboat pilot. Again, Jerome was always there to listen to my frustrations and let me know when I was wrong. Here recently, thanks to my good friend Jeremy Putman, owner of Riverview Boat store, I was given an opportunity to help Jerome’s son Colton start training to be a tug pilot.
This will be Colton’s first season turned loose as a pilot. Funny enough, Jerome was also there for me to offer advice and support through training his son, my first steersman. Colton is a lot like his dad. Natural love for the river and a hard day’s work.
In my eyes, a good mentor never stops being a resource for his student. Jerome has taught me lessons that I will carry the rest of my career and life. These lessons will help me shape other aspiring mariners, and hopefully they will continue to pass on the precious gift Jerome gave me.”
Jerome is currently working as a Chief Engineer on the Amelia Belle in Amelia, Louisiana. Brandon is a Pilot on the Roberta Tabor for ARTCO, and a trip Captain for Riverview Boat Store, Inc. (Riverview Tug Service) on the Mrs. P and the Capt. Bowe.
We would like to help YOU tell the story of your mentor to our community! Who helped make you, you? When was the first time they trusted you? What piece of advice do you come back to, over and over? Why did their style of leadership stick with you? Sharing the journey of your experiences can encourage others to follow your lead—to step up, become a mentor themselves, or reflect on the guidance they’re receiving right now! To find out more or to submit your personal experience for Mentor Monday, contact Andra at firstname.lastname@example.org