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Former Rep. Helen Bentley – First Lady of U.S.-Flag Maritime – Succumbs to Cancer



Two Port of Baltimore icons: former US Rep Helen Delich Bentley and Liberty Ship John W. Brown.
Two Port of Baltimore icons: former US Rep Helen Delich Bentley and Liberty Ship John W. Brown.

The “First Lady of the U.S.-flag Maritime Industry” passed away August 6.

For almost all of her adult life, Helen Delich Bentley, 92, fought for the men and women who crewed, built and handled U.S.-flag ships. During her illustrious career as a reporter, member of Congress and consultant, Bentley’s name was synonymous with the Port of Baltimore.

“There will never be another one like her,” stated MTD President Michael Sacco. “She was a fighter for what she believed in – and she believed in our industry and the men and women who work in it.  No one could top her dedication and devotion to the U.S.-flag merchant marine. All of us will miss her tremendously.”

Bentley was born in Nevada, but upon gaining her journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1944, she came east to work for the Baltimore Sun. Her beats were the Port of Baltimore and labor issues. She became the first woman to cover an American Federation of Labor convention in 1947.

While working at the Sun, she undertook a second job because the newspaper “at that time they would not pay me what they were paying the men and I had to go out and earn extra bucks,” according to WBAL radio. That is when she created and produced a television series about the port which ran on WMAR-TV for 15 years.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed her chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. She was the highest ranking woman in the executive branch of the federal government. She served until 1975.

After losing two previous campaigns, Bentley was elected to the Congress in 1984 from a blue-collar district in Maryland. The Republican served on the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee as well as the Appropriations Committee. She fought for trade policies that attempted to protect American maritime and manufacturing jobs.

The Washington Post recalled a classic Bentley incident during a congressional hearing when an admiral told her that parts the Navy needed were cheaper in South Korea. She responded, “Well, Admiral, they make admirals cheaper in Korea, too, and maybe we should buy some.”

After 10 years on Capitol Hill, she ran for governor of Maryland, but lost in the Republican primary.

She then formed a consulting company. In 2006, Maryland Gov. Robert Erlich honored her decades of service by renaming the port the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. She remained active and was a fixture at the annual AOTOS Awards in New York until she fell ill with brain cancer.

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