For 55 years, Leslie E. Chambers sailed the lakes and oceans of the world, culminating in his appointment as captain of the cruise ship Americana in 1989 -- at age 76.
Chambers had spent most of his life at the helm of freighters, tugboats, dredges and workboats, so when Americana owner Ramsi Tick asked him to captain the 150-foot excursion vessel, he didn't hesitate.
"I'd retired, and I didn't have anything to do, so this is like a vacation for me," Chambers said at the time.
His lifelong love affair with ships ended when he died Wednesday (Oct. 1, 1997) in his son's home in London, Ohio, at age 84. Chambers and his wife had moved there almost three years ago.
Chambers, who spent most of his life in Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda, joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1935 and spent the next 48 years on various Army boats. During World War II, he was given a direct Army commission as a major and assigned to the Far East as a dredge master.
He remained there for 12 years, stationed in the Philippines, Japan, Okinawa and Korea and earning a Bronze Star. He left the Army as a lieutenant colonel but stayed on as a civilian Army employee and ship captain.
Returning to Western New York in 1955, Chambers reclaimed his Army Corps of Engineers job, including two years piloting a tug during St. Lawrence Seaway construction near Massena. After years of building breakwaters and dredging channels, he retired in February 1983.
But he never lost his love of the sea. Five years after his retirement, he shared the helm of the Americana with two younger skippers, both of whom ran the vessel aground.
"He handles this ship just beautifully," Tick said, when he named Chambers captain of the excursion vessel that traveled between Buffalo and Crystal Beach, Ont. "The guys who had the accidents were half his age."
Besides his son, surviving are two daughters, Patricia A. Grizzle of the Town of Tonawanda and Leslie of Olean, and a grandson.
Chambers' wife of 57 years, Mary Katherine, died early this year.
Services were held Friday in London, Ohio.[gwrnr]