Arthur Fournier may have been only a few inches over 5 feet tall, but he was a super-sized character on the Portland waterfront.
With a broad vocabulary of profanities and a pushiness he learned growing up around the Boston waterfront, “people were a little afraid of him,” said Twain Braden, a lawyer who used to edit a Portland-based maritime magazine. “There was also an Old Testament kind of awe of him.”
“He had a Boston roughness about him that made everyone’s hair stand on end,” said Greg Walsh, who founded Professional Mariner, the magazine Braden edited, and went out on Fournier’s tugboats with him from time to time. “He could be incredibly friendly or incredibly profane, depending on what was happening in the wheelhouse.”
Fournier, who died Saturday at 82, had already built a tugboat empire in New England when he set his sights on the Portland market in 1985.
“He had the cheapest labor around – it was usually me and one or two of my brothers,” said Brian Fournier, one of Arthur Fournier’s four sons. “But even when he had a monopoly, he never took advantage of it.”
His father, Brian Fournier said, started with a sunken wooden tug that was at the bottom of the Mystic River in Massachusetts.
He bought the tug for $1, raised it, installed an engine from a wrecked Greyhound bus, and soon he was in business, pushing sand and gravel scows around Boston Harbor.
“He was one of a kind,” said Brian Fournier, who was involved in dueling lawsuits with his father about four years ago, when the senior Fournier tried to get back into the Portland tug business. Arthur Fournier had sold his Portland Tugboat to McAllister Towing, and his son had stayed on as president of McAllister. Their relationship was cooled by the competition until Arther Fournier, then 79, dropped his effort to get back in the business and retired, and then it warmed again, with both saying it wasn’t personal.
“I think he was trying to prove one last point,” his son said. “It was strictly business. I think he was just bored.”
Arthur Fournier’s father was a salesman for a citrus company, Brian Fournier said. But his son was drawn to the sea.
“He could hear the steam whistles from his house,” Brian Fournier said. At a young age, Arthur signed on as a deckhand for barges going to and from Portland, Boston and New York, “and that’s where he fell in love with the sea.”
He chose a tough business: In 1972, an armed robber stepped into his office in Boston, demanding money. Instead, Fournier pulled out a gun of his own. He was shot 12 times and he wounded the would-be robber.
Fournier and the robber were put in the same ambulance, his son said, and one imagines them trading obscenities when it got stuck in the mud.
Years later, Fournier would relate the tale when he spoke to maritime groups, his son said, ending the talks by pulling up his shirt, circling the bullet wounds with a magic marker and inviting the audience to come up and take a look.
Arthur Fournier’s skill as a docking pilot was so good that when the 94-foot-wide oil tanker Rossini came to Portland, he was always chosen to guide it through the 95-foot-wide opening of the old Million Dollar Bridge.
“The challenging obstacles were his favorites,” said Brian Fournier.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: