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Co-owner of Black Ball Ferry, pivotal player in tourism on both sides of border, dies at 48

Obituary: Ryan Malane. “He was great at challenging assumptions, making people think."

The president of Black Ball Ferry Line says the company’s co-owner, who died suddenly last week, played a key role working with lawmakers in the U.S. to keep the lights on at Black Ball — which operates the Coho ferry — during the pandemic.

Ryan Malane, the 48-year-old vice-president of marketing and co-owner of the Black Ball Ferry Line, died last week at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle after a short hospital stay.

He had been ill in the weeks before he died.

Ryan Burles said Malane was a multi-talented man with a depth of knowledge that made him invaluable as the company plotted its course, especially as it faced the headwinds of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He was great at challenging assumptions, making people think, and he had this great entrepreneurial spirit,” he said, adding Malane was the kind of person you want on your side when you’re in a fight. “When you work together through the things we went through, well, he was special. And I don’t know if you can replace that.”

Cynthia Malane said she watched her husband work ­tirelessly over the past two years to save jobs, maintain health-care benefits for the workers and keep the company from being acquired by foreign investors.

Burles said Malane was a thoughtful and careful decision maker who made a point of maintaining and strengthening the company culture when he joined.

He also noted his partner was essential when it came to ensuring the company was a part of festivals and events on both sides of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as enhancing marketing schemes in both regions.

“I’m biased, but I don’t think there’s anybody better as a marketer,” Burles said. “He really was extremely good at getting value for money.”

Paul Nursey, chief executive of Destination Greater Victoria, said Malane’s death is a huge loss.

“What a great marketer, a classically trained marketer, which is a bit of a rarity these days,” he said. “He was very disciplined and knew his stuff. And not only that, but contributed to many other causes around tourism, like the Pacific Northwest Economic Region and ­Attractions Victoria.”

Marsha Massey, ­executive director of the Olympic ­Peninsula Visitor Bureau, said the predominant reaction around the peninsula last week was shock and heartbreak.

“Ryan Malane was a pivotal player not only in the Port Angeles business community, but really all across the Olympic Peninsula,” she said.

Massey said Malane was a creative thinker and problem solver who would tackle everything from transportation issues on Hurricane Ridge to post-pandemic economic recovery.

She noted that Malane launched Black Ball Marketing, which helped many small businesses and the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission pivot during the pandemic and develop a strategy to emerge on the other side.

“That’s been hugely successful for us, and we continue to use that,” she said. “He really understood and was kind of passionate about the economic value of tourism and what it could mean to our region.”

Mark Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said he has lost a good friend and a ­business partner.

“He was really a great guy and a solid partner to our business community in many ways,” he said. “Ryan Malane was the face of Black Ball in Port Angeles. He got involved in so many ways, in non-profits, on boards of directors and served on several committees. He did a lot for our community.”

Jonathan Heerema, a ­tourism industry veteran and current senior advisor at ­Destination B.C., worked with Malane on what would eventually become the Destination B.C. co-op program, and a new approach for Attractions ­Victoria.

“We both had our faults but we both loved and cared for one another. We always trusted and respected one another. We understood one another and were there for one another,” he said.

Bill Eisenhauer, head of engagement for the City of Victoria, worked for years with Malane and Black Ball as a ­public relations consultant.

“I knew the moment I met Ryan that here is a special person,” he said. “It’s rare when a work relationship turns into friendship, but it was a ­wonderful thing for me that it happened. We shared a love of boats and dreaming up schemes to get more people to ride the MV Coho.

“He always had the best ideas, but for some reason kept me around.”

Eisenhauer said Malane taught him that paying attention to little things mattered.

Cynthia Malane, who was with her husband for 20 years, said he was “intensely invested” in connecting Port Angeles, where the couple lived, with Victoria.

“He cared about his community, giving the majority of his time and energy discovering new ways to bring in commerce to Port Angeles,” she said.

A memorial will be held in mid-July in Port Angeles.

aduffy@timescolonist.com