Captain Molly Brooks, 74, died on May 26, 2020, at home in Port Townsend Washington, in the company of close friends, following a brief but intense battle with liver cancer. A trendsetter, “Captain Molly” as many of her Alaska friends called her, was one of the first female tour boat captains in the Alaska tourism industry.
Molly’s maritime career began in the late 1980s as a deckhand for Pete and Sue Hanke on the Red Head in Puget Sound. She spent many years in Alaska, sometimes seasonally and sometimes year-round, working for the Hankes, NOAA, Allen Marine, Major Marine, Four Seasons Marine, Chilkat Cruises, and the Haines Skagway Fast Ferry. She earned her captain’s license in the late 1990s.
Bart Henderson, a Haines tourism pioneer and Fast Ferry owner, praised her. “Molly was a great captain. She always had good energy and was always upbeat,” he said.
Mary Tougas of Major Marine Tours in Seward said “Molly was a real roll up your sleeves sort of Captain who could rise to any challenge. During the winter when the boats were not running, she completely re-upholstered the seats in the boats.”
Keith Barsch worked as a mechanic with her on the Fast Ferry and said she had a profound influence on him, from her stories of the years she spent working in the early Texas music scene to her seamanship, but mostly in the way she treated others with good humor and kindness. “If she wanted you to do something you did it — not because she told you to, but because you wanted to do it for her, you respected her.” She was quiet and calm at the helm, but liked to have fun, too. Once, when they were stuck with a boat in Sitka on an Easter Sunday, she made the crew a holiday brunch from vending machine fare and then had them dress up in Tyvek suits with cardboard bunny ears and she produced plastic eggs for a hunt.
Molly Anne Brooks was born in Tacoma, Washington to Martha (Woodruff) and Edward Wesley Fenton on May 1, 1946. The family moved to Texas when she was ten. She graduated from Highland Park High School and attended Austin College, where she met her first husband Allen Hallmark. They wed on July 22, 1966, at Fort Meade Maryland, prior to his deployment to Vietnam. She returned to Austin where the marriage ended, and did the sound for and helped on the first recordings of musicians such as Janis Joplin and Manse Lipscombe. She married her second husband, banjo player Bill Brooks there. Their union was short lived.
Molly settled in San Antonio and continued to work as a sound engineer for bands and learned jewelry-making from her friends Glenda Cade and Bobby McGarraugh. In the early 1970s they all moved to Joyce, Washington. Molly later lived in Quilcene and Port Townsend where she worked at the Port Townsend Baking Co. and for the Washington State Ferries food services before heading north to Juneau and Haines and her career on the water.
She retired from the Alaska tour boat business in 2011, returning to the Port Townsend area where she was a valued volunteer for the Centrum Foundation and an enthusiastic appreciator of music and art.
“I can’t express how cool Molly was. She was one of those people who leave a big imprint,” Keith Barsch said.
Molly is survived by her brother Michael Edward Fenton and his wife Gail of Bryan, Texas, multiple cousins in Washington, Oregon, and California, her current cat, Loretta (she always had one) and her many dear friends near and far.
Stories will be told and good music played when it is possible to celebrate Captain Molly Brooks’ remarkable life together.
Memorial donations may be made to your local Animal Rescue center and Arts Council.