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A.J. McAllister III, with his wife Vicky, son A.J. IV, and daughter Brooklyn christen a new tug in his daughter's honor in October 1999. Captain Brian McAllister looks on.

Tug o' my heart: An Irish dynasty on the New York waterfront

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A.J. McAllister III, with his wife Vicky, son A.J. IV, and daughter Brooklyn christen a new tug in his daughter's honor in October 1999. Captain Brian McAllister looks on.

The fourth generation on the brink

Brian was born on Christmas Day in 1932, one of eight children, and grew up in his grandfather’s house on Albemarle Road, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. His father Anthony would take all the boys to the shipyard. “I was scared to death on the boats,” Brian said. When he was 12 or 13, and working as a summer deckhand on a tug, he recalls his fright watching the very tricky task of maneuvering one ship from a line of three and then moving another ship into the same slot. He told the pilot he was scared and was sent to the engine room. “I was happier down there,” he said, because he didn’t have to watch what was going on. Despite Brian’s alleged lack of interest in learning, he graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in maritime engineering, but the family business was not calling him yet.

“The third generation had an agreement that only two sons from each branch of the family could work in the business, so I went into the Navy for two years.” He came out in 1958 as a Lieutenant JG and got a job with the American Express Isbrandtsen Line, making a lot of money. “I loved it,” he said, but by then also realized he was spending too much time away and asked his father for a job on the tugs. Anthony was able to get Brian a job as tug captain and eventually pilot. By the mid-1960s Brian had extensive seagoing experience and was promoted to the office.

Keeping It all in the family

By the 1970s, Brian said his dad was not in good health and only three of the eight kids (Brian, Anthony, Jr., and Bruce) were in the business. “My uncles didn’t have all their kids in the business,” he added. (There are now close to one thousand descendants from the original James McAllister, but most of them drifted away from the family business into other areas. Those in the business today are descended from Captain Jim and his sons.)

Brian realized his father was getting close to selling the business for $20 million, part of which was stock in a Canadian company. “I was a fairly aggressive guy, although I didn’t know much about finance,” he admitted. Nevertheless, he convinced his brothers and cousins to put up $3,000 each and form a corporation to buy the company. “My father said, ‘You’ll never make it. You have no reserves to fall back on."

It took four years to close the deal, but in 1974 the fourth generation bought the domestic company from the third generation for $15 million. Other pieces of the business went to various siblings and cousins. Brian invited a Harvard MBA to help with the financial arrangements and come aboard as a partner. The company expanded into the oil business. The outside partner wanted to sell the tug business, but Brian wanted to hold onto the company’s heritage. This resulted in a lawsuit for control and in 1998 the company was divided with the partner taking the oil business and Brian keeping the towing and ferry business. The settlement was made one day before the company was to be auctioned off. “My sons helped put a settlement together,” Brian said, “and the partner gave in.”

With Brian at the helm as owner and president of McAllister Towing, and five members of the fifth generation at work in the company, the family is keeping the business on track. Brian “Buckley” McAllister, 41, Brian’s oldest son, is vice president and general counsel. He is a graduate of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. Eric, 39, graduated from New York University with a degree in economics and is the vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer. Their combined knowledge and expertise in finance and law helped Brian hang onto the business.

Anthony J. (A.J.) McAllister III, 52, the son of Brian’s brother Anthony, Jr., is vice president of sales. He, like Brian, graduated from SUNY Maritime at Fort Schuyler and is a licensed tug master and docking pilot. Andrew McAllister, 36, is the son of Brian’s younger brother Michael. He has an MBA from New York University and is vice president. He also leads the company’s information technology department. Jeffrey McAllister, 53, son of Brian’s cousin James, is the company’s senior docking pilot in New York Harbor.

Although he doesn’t play basketball anymore, Brian is a vigorous man who plays golf and tennis whenever he can. He also likes to walk to work from the Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife of 42 years, the former Rosemary Owens, who taught math at the United Nations International School in New York. They met at a birthday party for Brian’s father. Rosemary was his younger brother’s date!

Today, nearly 150 years after James arrived from Cushendall, McAllister is still not as big as Moran Towing Company, but unlike Moran, the company is still in the family. Will the sixth generation carry on the family trade? It’s too soon to tell, but if it’s any incentive, they all have had tug- boats named for them.

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