The word passed quickly among old shipmates today that our Captain, Michael B. Ferguson, had passed away on Saturday. He died where he loved to spend time, on the sands of Dam Neck, Virginia.
He was my first Commanding Officer. He took command of USS COOK (FF1083) right after her collision with USS MARS (AFS 1) in the summer of 1979 – one of the most challenging situations a ship’s Captain can inherit, since he would not only have to ensure major repairs were completed on time, but also heal the morale of a crew that invariably would suffer after such a traumatic incident. To me and the other Sailors on board COOK, he was larger than life. He had to be tough enough to meet demanding training and repair schedules, yet inspiring enough to rebuild the crew’s spirit. He taught us how to stand proper watches and how to lead. He showed us that hard work brings success, and that whining accomplishes nothing. Everything I did in the Navy and in life afterward was built on the foundation he established under the most difficult of conditions.
It wasn’t until a full three decades had passed before we re-established our relationship – this time as civilians with very different missions in life. While I, along with most of my peers, had gone into business or chased fame and fortune, Mike dedicated his life to serving the Lord and His flock. As an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, he affected thousands of lives and once again became the rock upon which people could lean when their lives became troubled.
He commented on my trivial cartoons or blog articles almost every day, giving thoughtful and encouraging comments every time. That larger than life Captain of mine eventually became much more. He became my friend.
His son Les followed his example and served in the Navy, then in the clergy; so Mike’s legacy of service will continue. Of course his family is devastated, but hopefully the sadness is tempered by the understanding that he is in a much, much better place now.
As are we who knew him. We are in a better place in our lives because of him. I will miss his gentle but thought-provoking comments, and wish I had been a better friend for a longer time than I was. But his influence will be with everyone he touched along his life’s journey, including me.
Rest in peace, my Captain, and thank you.