Obituary: Clipper executive Darrell Bryan gave boost to Victoria tourism

The region’s marine transportation industry has lost some of its voice, passion and energy with the death of former Clipper Navigation president Darrell Bryan.

Bryan, a tireless advocate for the tourism and ferry industries and someone known for his knack of pulling disparate groups together over a common cause, died Sept. 7 of multiple myeloma at age 71.

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Ryan Burles, chief executive of Black Ball Ferry, was a close friend and one-time competitor. “He was a great person, someone who loved to get after it and have fun doing it,” said Burles. “He was a really special man.”

Clipper provides passenger-ferry service between Victoria and Seattle.

Burles said they met in 1986 and, at times, he counted Bryan as a confidante as much as a competitor and appreciated his ability to take on all challenges.

“He was a real leader, and as much as I admired his hard work and entrepreneurial nature and perseverance in building the Clipper, [Bryan] wanted to build the tourism brand for Victoria and the region,” Burles recalled.

And then there was the style. Up front, unapologetic and, at times, loud. “He liked the debate,” Burles said with a laugh. “In a lot of ways there has been a hole here since he retired [in 2015]. I don’t know if there are many people quite like him.”

“Darrell definitely had a big personality, you knew when he was in the room,” said Dave Gudgel, Clipper’s CEO. “He was not shy of speaking his mind.”

While Bryan’s tongue was sharp at times, it was also skilled in the art of diplomacy, establishing partnerships, developing allies and at the end of the day getting things done.

“Darrell had a huge heart and was highly regarded in our industry. I really enjoyed our time together,” said Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey. “In spite of his reputation for being demanding, I personally found Darrell to be great to work with.”

Bryan played a fundamental role in growing Clipper into a cornerstone of the tourism industry.

He would become the public face of the Seattle-based company for 29 years after being the second person hired by founder Merideth Tall in 1986. He was an advocate for Clipper and the tourism industry, never afraid to take on elected officials on issues that affected tourism and transportation to the Island. In interviews, Bryan, would rail against regulation and red tape, fight on behalf of the industry in two countries and at the end of the day be the first to admit he loved every minute of it.

“He left a big mark on the marine transportation industry and tourism industry here,” said Gudgel, noting one of Bryan’s biggest feats was on a quarterly basis bringing together everyone on the Seattle waterfront, from the U.S. Coast Guard to restaurants and operators, to talk about issues and find solutions. “That will carry on after him.”

Ian Robertson, now chief executive of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, was with the Rocky Mountaineer train service 14 years ago when his path crossed Bryan’s as they headed to Washington, D.C. to talk about border crossings. “What I admired most was Darrell never talked about his own business, but what was for the good of the region and how it would enhance tourism in two countries,” he said. “Darrell was a no-nonsense kind of guy, but very fair and quite forceful about getting his point across, but always respectful.”

John Wilson of Wilson’s Transportation, said Bryan was an innovator and “instrumental in making Victoria a destination of choice for Americans in the Pacific Northwest and beyond while opening up a new way for locals to get to Seattle.”

Darrell Bryan was born Aug. 25, 1948 in Long Beach, California. He is survived by Cathleen, his wife of 48 years, and sons Patrick and Matthew.

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