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Robert Healey, Viking Yachts co-founder, dies at 92

The New Jersey shipbuilding executive led a successful campaign against a luxury-boat tax in the 1990s.

Robert T. Healey Sr., an attorney and co-founder of New Gretna, N.J.-based Viking Yacht Co., died Dec. 9.
Robert T. Healey Sr., an attorney and co-founder of New Gretna, N.J.-based Viking Yacht Co., died Dec. 9.Read moreViking Yacht Co.

New Jersey yacht-building executive Robert T. Healey Sr., 92, who led a successful campaign against a luxury-boat tax in the 1990s that involved setting fire to a vessel in New England’s Narraganset Bay to publicize the issue, died Dec. 9. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Healey, a lawyer and co-founder of New Gretna, Burlington County-based Viking Yacht Co., had spent 25 years as a business lawyer when he turned his focus to Viking Yachts, which he and his brother Bill acquired in 1964. As Viking’s chairman for 57 years, Mr. Healey expanded the business to encompass apartment buildings, industrial and commercial real estate, and oil and gas exploration.

Mr. Healey was also the father of Robert Healey Jr., a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey’s Third District.

While he was Viking’s chief executive, Mr. Healey led his industry’s response to a 10% tax on yachts and other luxury vessels imposed in 1991, which the company said had resulted in thousands of layoffs and the dissolution of hundreds of companies nationwide.

In 1993, after Mr. Healey organized busloads of out-of-work boatbuilders to converge on Capitol Hill for demonstrations and arranged to have a boat set ablaze on a barge in Narragansett Bay in Road Island, the tax was repealed.

“He saved not only Viking but the entire marine industry,” said Viking Yachts’ current president and chief executive, Pat Healey, Mr. Healey’s nephew. “He was the catalyst and leader, and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Mr. Healey was born in Atlantic City in 1929. He graduated from Camden Catholic High School and attended St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

He practiced law in Camden County as a senior partner in the firm of Healey, Mueller and Tyler before devoting himself full time to his business with his brother.

Under the brothers’ ownership, Viking become the largest manufacturer of sport fishing yachts in the world, delivering more than 5,000 boats to date. In 2002, the brothers repurchased the Bass River Marina in New Gretna, where they had started their business decades earlier before selling the property, rechristening it as the Viking Yachting Center.

Mr. Healey was also known for his philanthropy, which included building schools in impoverished areas of Mexico, and providing housing, medical assistance, education, food and clean water to the people of war-torn Sierra Leone through the Healey International Relief Foundation, the company said.

“My father was a good man with a deep faith and commitment to service,” said Robert Healey Jr., who is co-chairman of Viking Group, which manages Viking Yachts, Viking Investments, Viking Associates, Viking Residential and Viking Developers. “No person or mission was ever a lost cause to him. He saw the potential in everyone and believed that our true worth and value in life is in our contributions to others.”

Mr. Healey is survived by his wife, Ellen; seven children, including Robert Jr.; sixteen grandchildren; and his brother Bill. His first wife, Louise, and brothers Patrick and Edward died earlier.

A funeral Mass was held for Mr. Healey on Dec. 17. Donations can be sent to charities supported by the Robert T. Healey Sr. Charitable Trust, which include the Healey International Relief Foundation, the Healey Education Foundation, and the Gleneayre Equestrian Program.