WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Paul Jarvis, who had a distinguished career in the merchant marine before and during World War II, rising from the rank of seaman to first mate and then to captain of several ships, died here March 16, 2002. Two of his ships were torpedoed in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and one was hit by a floating mine in the Pacific and was beached near Okinawa.

Jarvis was a staunch trade unionist and progressive. His views were shaped as a youth growing up in an orphanage and at the age of 7 witnessing a lynching of a young Black man in Little Rock, leading to a lifelong commitment to equal rights and the end to Jim Crow.

He went to work for the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America, later known as Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union, CIO, organizing Planters peanut workers in the Suffolk, Va., plant. He was one of the founders of the National Maritime Union and an early organizer in its behalf. He was also a member of the Master Mates and Pilots Union, CIO.

In spite of his heroic record, he was victimized during the repressive McCarthy period, his license lifted and his career destroyed. As Paul put it, “One week I was Captain of a ship and the next week I was hanging 500 feet in the air with Joe Stack at the end of rotten rope, painting windows.” (Joe Stack went on to become local president of a formerly rightwing-led union of waterproofers.) Paul helped countless others who had also been screened to get jobs in construction.

Jarvis’ name belongs with many of the legends of maritime trade unionism: Joe Stack, Roy Rydell, Blackie Myers, Ferdinand Smith and Captain Hugh Mulzac, the first African-American to become a captain in the U.S. merchant marine. He knew them all and was well respected by the rank and file, as well. To the end, he worked with the seamen’s newspaper, The Hawsepipe.

In the last decades of his life, he had an air conditioning business and, more importantly, operated a heating and air conditioning school, where young working-class men and women, African-American and other minority youth, learned and got licensed in a trade where they are making a good living. These students have paid him back with respect and love.

Paul is survived by his wife Alice, son Mickey, daughters Patricia and Kathy, and grandson, Paul Michael.