Parker Conrad, who started with a small wooden boat business in Morgan City, La., and built it into Conrad Shipyard with five facilities in Louisiana and Texas, died at home on July 6. He was 101.
A shipbuilding pioneer and a legend along the Gulf of Mexico coast, Conrad founded Conrad Industries in 1948 at age 33 after buying a shipyard that built shrimp trawlers.
In his teens, Conrad trained for a Roman Catholic vocation with the Christian Brothers order in Lafayette, La., an experience the company said “formed in him a deeply rooted and lifelong commitment to others." He supported many charitable and community causes in South Louisiana, and received numerous awards for his accomplishments and philanthropy. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Parker was a conservationist with a profound respect for the environment.
“Parker Conrad was a kind and gentle man, and with his wry smile, his charismatic personality and lively sense of humor, he will be sorely missed by the many thousands of lives he touched along the way,” the company said in a statement.
The Great Depression, and earning a living working outdoors when Conrad returned to his family on the Lagonda Plantation (now Bayou Vista), helped form that character. Conrad raised sugar cane, rice, chickens and vegetables, and tried his hand at raising bullfrogs, along with the southern Louisiana occupations of logging, trapping and fishing.
With savings from rice harvests and other ventures, Conrad put a down payment on a used insulated trailer truck, and began hauling fresh shrimp on ice to New York City’s Fulton Fish Market. That led him into the shrimp packing business in Morgan City and Cameron. After selling two shrimp plants, Conrad began renting boats to oil companies, and then invested in the Atchafalaya River shipyard.
According to a company history, Conrad recognized that the business could thrive alongside the offshore oil industry, coupled with the growing post-World War II economy and its increasing demand for food and water transportation. Conrad Industries became a major employer in Morgan City, and provided the city’s landmark monument, the Spirit of Morgan City, to the Brashear Avenue neutral ground.
Conrad made his company’s credo “quality, craftsmanship, integrity and service,” and other members of the Conrad family now carry on the tradition. "His handshake was his bond," according to son Johnny Conrad, now the company CEO. Parker Conrad himself served as CEO until 1994 and remained on the board until finally retiring in 2014.
In its 69th year, Conrad Industries builds tugs, barges, pushboats, liftboats, ferries and many other vessels.
Conrad was married to Shirley Rita Kihneman for 64 years until her death in 2006. He is survived by one son, Conrad Industries chairman and CEO Johnny Conrad and his wife Mary Lou Brunson Conrad, Berwick, La.; one daughter, Katherine Conrad Court, and her husband, James K., of Round Mountain, Texas; four grandsons, and 11 great-grandchildren.