Captain Rodney Young had planned to stay with his ship until the end of its days. As it was, he did not live to carry out his last duties as Master of the RMS St Helena.
The ship remained in operation longer than intended because of problems with the island’s airport; Rodney died unexpectedly on holiday, just short of his 54th birthday.
On Facebook, Rodney’s wife Jill thanked many Saints and friends who had posted messages of condolence. “Rodney will never realise how much people loved and respected him.” she wrote.
“The weather here in the Seychelles just about sums up how we’re all feeling – it’s raining tears of sorrow for my soulmate. You are already missed more than you’ll ever know xx.”
Governor Lisa Phillips had the flag lowered at Plantation House, and the same was done at The Castle in Jamestown and at Signal Point.
Rodney was the first St Helenian to become captain of the RMS St Helena. He had joined the Merchant Navy in 1979, training at the Plymouth School of Maritime Studies. He served on the first RMS St Helena from August 1980, and was one of the first four cadets on a training scheme set up by the vessel’s operator of the time, Curnow Shipping.
He was present at the launch of the RMS St Helena and became Master in August 2000, a role that saw him become something of an ambassador for the island. His is one of the first voices heard in a BBC documentary, St Helena – An End To Isolation. He tells the interviewer the ship was central to the life of the island: for many Saints and visitors, Rodney was central to their experience of the voyage.
The journalist Matthew Engel, who visited the island to write a piece for the Financial Times magazine in early 2016, said: “Rodney Young represented to me everything that was best about St Helena.
“In the way he proved himself in his career by climbing to the top of it. In the relaxed professionalism he brought to the captaincy of the RMS. In the affability and good humour he brought to his de facto role as an ambassador for the island.
“I will never forget when I went into his mother’s shop in Jamestown and got talking. I asked her name. She said, ‘May Young.’ I asked if she was any relation to Rodney and she almost burst with pride when she said, ‘I’m his mama!’
“So when I say that I send my deepest sympathies to the family, I really do so with all my heart.”
Rodney’s nephew, David Lindsay, was among more than 100 people who posted messages of condolence on Facebook. “The first St Helenian to captain the RMS St Helena,” he wrote. “He had the MBE to prove it.
“He was the youngest of eight siblings, yet he is the first to go.”
A statement said the directors and staff of the shipping line were shocked and saddened by the news. “He was much liked and respected by his officers and crew on board the RMS and an extremely competent and professional Master of the ship. He will be much missed by all his friends and colleagues.”
Vilma Clingham-Toms paid tribute on behalf of the St Helena Association in the UK. She said she was in a state of shock. She said: “He gave young Saints hope – showing them that with hard work and dedication they could be whatever they wanted to be. Nothing was out of reach.”
One Facebook tribute recalled his kindness to a passenger who lost her partner. Carrying sick passengers and their anxious family members was a part of the job that called for delicacy.
Roma Ann Stewart posted: “Rodney was such a lovely man. I think everyone who had the pleasure to have known him has at least one special story or memory of him.”
In America, Doreen Gatien wrote: “We will always remember his professionalism and courtesy on board each time we travelled home, and the fun pictures we have of him.
Maggie Peters said: “What a shock it was when we heard the sad news. I will always remember with laughter the stories that he told when I was doing a night shift at the Customs. God bless. xx”
Wilma Baker wrote: “I remember how proud we were of Capt Rodney when he passed his qualifications. Our sympathy to all the family. We shall miss him.”
Lee Vorster, a fellow Merchant Navy officer, posted from the Isle of Man: “We have lost a captain, a gentleman, a friend and a mentor. I am so shocked and sad today. RIP Captain Rodney Young: lost far too soon.”
Rodney’s wife gave a poignant response to Di and Andy Parker, who said: “The RMS will never be the same.”
Jill thanked them for their thoughts, but said: “I do hope the ship will be the same until it finishes, which was what he had planned: to be there until the end of its life. Sadly his came first.”
Saint to captain RMS St Helena – September 2000
Our World – An End To Isolation – see Rodney Young near the start of this BBC documentary