PORT ANGELES — Community members were stunned to hear of the sudden death of Ryan Malane, vice president and co-owner of Black Ball Ferry Line, who had contributed his marketing expertise to people ranging from small business owners to those with government entities and nonprofits.
Malane, of Port Angeles, died early Monday at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. He was 48.
“Every person I’ve had to tell the news to is consistently shocked and heart-broken,” said Marsha Massey, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau. “He was a major figure in this community. He cared very deeply about this place — about the North Olympic Peninsula as a whole.
“If there was one person in this community who has been the face of perseverance and glass half full and dedication not only to his business but to his people, it was Ryan Malane.”
The cause of death was reported by a family friend to be a lack of oxygen and fluid on his lungs, but no specific ailment has been announced.
Black Ball President Ryan Burles of Victoria said Malane had been severely ill for at least two weeks prior to his death.
Some said COVID-19 played a part in his early death, even if he was never infected with the virus.
In March 2020, the Coho was docked due to COVID-19 health restrictions, and for the next 18 months, the company survived on reserves and grants while maintaining medical insurance for all of its 120 workers.
“The worry, the pressure, everything that came with COVID and trying to keep your business alive … I know it took a tremendous toll on him,” said Randy Johnson, Clallam County commissioner, fellow board member on the county lodging tax board and a close friend.
“He took it to heart and thought about it every day.”
Malane, who had worked as a marketing professional for firms in the Seattle area, became vice president of Black Ball Ferry Line, which runs the Coho ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria, in November 2010. In January 2012, he was among the five members of the executive management team who purchased the company from the Oregon State University Foundation.
He and wife, Cynthia, have been together for 20 years, she said. They met online; she was in Victoria and he was in Bremerton at the time. She took the Coho to Port Angeles and they had their first meal together at Bella Italia. They moved to Port Angeles about 10 years ago.
“Ryan was the love of my life; the most important person in the world to me. His unexpected death came as a huge shock!” she wrote.
“I will remember his big heart, his kind eyes and his ability to put a smile on my face when I was having a hard day.”
Malane was a principal member of the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission and served on its marketing committee. He created Black Ball Marketing after a suggestion from Massey, she said.
He served on a variety of other boards and developed strong relationships with a number of organizations.
“The legacy that Ryan Malane has left for not just Black Ball but also Port Angeles and the greater county is just about immeasurable,” said Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Economic Development Council (EDC), where Malane had served as a board member and treasurer.
“He was a fabulous human being, kind, understanding, responsive,” she said. “He was a terrific person to work with.”
During the COVID lockdown, his was a familiar face on Zoom calls, and frequently a cat sat on his shoulder.
“He adored his cats,” Massey said.
Among his contributions, said Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, were ensuring charter ground transportation, keeping the Port Angeles Underground tours going and his support of small businesses.
“He did work for young people starting businesses that are thriving today,” Abshire said.
Among those was Tommy Farris, owner and founder of Olympic Hiking Co., in Port Angeles.
Malane and Black Ball packaged his Hurricane Ridge tours when he was just getting started, he said.
“Ryan was not only a big supporter of my small business, he supported all small businesses on the Peninsula.”
His reach extended far beyond Port Angeles.
For instance, he and Cynthia made hand sanitizer when it was difficult to get early on in the COVID-19 pandemic and donated some to Forks.
“It was like 400 bottles and a few months later we had a second shipment,” said Lissy Andros, Forks Chamber of Commerce executive director. “It was very touching that he thought about us.”
Malane was born on May 8, 1974. He graduated from Curtis Senior High School in University Place, earned a bachelor’s from University of Washington and a master’s in communications from Gonzaga University.
A celebration of life will be scheduled at a later date, Cynthia Malane said. Donations, if wanted, can be made to the Andorra Fund of EveryCat Health Foundation, which is at everycat.org.
Johnson said he and Malane had put aside a bottle of Scotch so they could share a drink once the problems caused by COVID were over.
That bottle, Cynthia Malane told him, is still there.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].