With great sorrow, the Southern Shrimp Alliance is saddened to report that we have learned that Thomas James Schultz, Jr., a lifelong shrimper and industry advocate from Biloxi, Mississippi, passed away yesterday, April 14, 2020, at 87 years of age.
Along with the entirety of the shrimp industry, the Southern Shrimp Alliance mourns Captain Tommy Schultz’s untimely passing.
Born on October 22, 1932, in Biloxi, Mississippi, Captain Tommy began working on boats with his father, Thomas James Schultz, Sr., as a boy. Raised in Bon Secour, Alabama, Captain Tommy’s father built his own thirty-foot shrimp boat at the age of 17. On one of his trips to unload at a factory in Biloxi, he met Captain Tommy’s mother, Ophelia Quigley, and they settled in Biloxi in 1931.
As a young man, Captain Tommy enlisted in the Navy, serving in the military for four years, before returning home. In 1962, Captain Tommy acquired his first vessel, the Snowdrift, and operated it for nearly a decade.
As a shrimper, Captain Tommy was most closely associated with the Reva Rose, one of the earliest electronically equipped shrimp trawlers in the Biloxi Fleet. Built in 1970 by Tony Jack Covacevich, the Reva Rose was a 76-foot steel hull lugger that introduced a new type of shrimp boat to the Gulf Coast. Captain Tommy acquired the Reva Rose in 1973, operating it for nearly three decades, until he sold the vessel in 2001. For a short time before he passed in 1980, Captain Tommy’s father came out of retirement to work with his son aboard the Reva Rose. Captain Tommy was the first person to own a steel hull boat in Biloxi and he used the Reva Rose to test and perfect new forms of shrimping along the Gulf of Mexico’s coast. A fixture at Biloxi’s annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony, Captain Tommy was honored to preside as the Shrimp King over the ceremony in 1983.
On land, Captain Tommy began working for the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center as the Physical Plant Supervisor in the 1990s. Over time, Captain Tommy became involved in the development of improved energy technology and fuel consumption monitoring for vessels operating in the Gulf and was instrumental in the development of the Turtle Excluder Device (“TED”).
Captain Tommy served on a multitude of committees and advisory boards in his tireless efforts to improve and enhance the shrimp industry. Among these groups, at the time of his passing, Captain Tommy was a longtime member of the Shrimp Advisory Panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
In recognition of his contributions to the industry, Captain Tommy was inducted into the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum’s Hall of Fame as a commercial fisherman member in 2014. Captain Tommy’s father, Thomas James Schultz, Sr., joined his son in the Museum’s Hall of Fame when he was inducted posthumously in 2016.
Captain Tommy is survived by a loving family, including his daughter, Reva Hopkins, and his grandson, Ross Dellenger. Last month, Sports Illustrated published a moving tribute to Captain Tommy written by Ross Dellenger. In a wonderful essay about his family, Ross beautifully described his grandfather’s vitality:
This is a close-knit family, one that gathers weekly around a card table, drinking cheap beer and feasting on fresh Gulf catch. They’re originally from south Louisiana stock, social butterflies with a passion for boiled crustaceans and fried fish, reared on the captain’s catch. Captain Tommy was named Shrimp King back in the 80s, and if you’re wondering what that means, no, I don’t know either. But, in his home, there is a portrait of him uncomfortably wearing a crown atop his thinning white hair. Captain Tommy isn’t necessarily the regal type (in fact, I’m certain he’s killed a man or two somewhere along the way), but he was a dang good shrimper and he’s an even better chef. Boy, Captain Tommy can cook, cook you right out of your own kitchen, his gumbo, jambalaya and grilled brisket as good as any. Even in his old age, he’s still got it.
The President of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, Steve Bosarge, acquired the Reva Rose in 2001. Steve’s comments regarding the death of his friend and colleague are provided below:
My Friend Tommy
To know Tommy was to know a true friend.
Whenever he would come to visit, Tommy always came bearing gifts. It may have been something as simple as a loaf of French Bread or a box of fresh pastries but Tommy always had something.
I always enjoyed the stories of old time Biloxi, back when it was a mix of immigrants all trying to make a home for themselves in the seafood industry. Tommy was the story teller. He was never without a new, old adventure to talk about. And cook, oh boy, could he cook – from his famous Redfish coubion to shrimp gumbo and everything in between. Almost all of his recipes were learned while cooking for the crews aboard his boat the Reva Rose, named after his daughter and wife.
Tommy was well known throughout the Gulf of Mexico for all the years he fished. He was a pioneer in fisheries management and an innovator in fishing vessel efficiency and shrimping gear efficiency.
Tommy asked that his body be reduced to ashes. He asked that his last ride be aboard the Reva Rose and that his ashes be spread back at sea where he always felt at peace.
Read Captain Tommy’s full bio at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum’s Hall of Fame here: http://msimhalloffame.org/thomas-james-schultz-jr-tommy.html
Read Ross Dellenger’s In a Stalled Sports World, Everyone’s Day with Coronavirus Comes, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 28, 2020) here: https://www.si.com/sports-illustrated/2020/03/28/captain-tommy-coronavirus