Tacoma’s maritime community suffered a big loss this week with the death of local historian Ron Magden

Ron Magden was a longtime friend of the Tacoma longshore, the Port of Tacoma and the working waterfront. He knew that by learning lessons from the past, we could help shape the future.

“Dr. Ron” was a labor historian and history professor at Tacoma Community College for many years. In 1982, Ron co-authored the book The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma’s Ships and Men. Phil Lelli, a longtime Tacoma longshore worker and leader, had the original idea for the book. Pacific Lutheran University professor A.D. Martinson was the book’s co-author.

Ron later updated and expanded that book and published The Working Longshoreman in 1991. The Port of Tacoma purchased many copies of both books and Port staff still use them as important reference sources today.

Over the years, Ron also wrote many articles for the Port’s Pacific Gateway magazine. He was the Port’s “go-to guy” when we needed additional background information and historical details about the Port of Tacoma’s history and the development of the Tacoma Tideflats.

His knowledge, interest and passion for the Port’s historical development and the people behind those developments, was unsurpassed. Over the years, we interviewed Ron many times to help the Port tell various stories and gain insights into the people, companies and developments that have helped shape our working waterfront.

Ron is featured in a video that highlights the history of the Kaiser aluminum plant in Tacoma. He is part of the award-winning Proud Past, Promising Future video that was produced during the Port’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1993 and in the Port’s centennial video that debuted at Tacoma Historical Society’s Destiny Dinner in October 2018.

The relationship Ron had with the Tacoma longshore and with the Port was personal and very cooperative. Ron knew that great things could always happen—on Tacoma’s waterfront and elsewhere—when people worked together towards a common goal.

Perhaps Ron sums it up best in The Working Longshoreman book when he states, “Union longshoremen and the Port of Tacoma share the common goals of developing their magnificent harbor and maintaining an efficient and stable work force. Working together, they benefit not only waterfront workers and the shipping industry, but the entire community they serve.”

We send our condolences to Ron’s family and friends. We are honored to have worked with him and are thankful that he was so willing to share his time, his stories, his love of history and his life with us. He will be missed.