Paul E. Trimble, 92, former vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and leader of a Great Lakes shipping association when the iron-ore freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, died of complications from Parkinson's disease Nov. 16 at his home in Palm Harbor, Fla. He was a former resident of Bethesda.
Vice Adm. Trimble was in his second career Nov. 10, 1975, when, during a ferocious winter storm, the 729-foot boat and its 29 crew members sank to the bottom of Lake Superior. No definitive cause for the sinking has been found, but the disaster spurred Adm. Trimble and the Lake Carriers' Association to improve safety for the lake's fleet by upgrading weather forecasts on the Great Lakes and urging that each vessel carry enough individual survival suits for all crew members.
"We have modern electronic equipment and we get good weather forecasts,'' Adm. Trimble declared in a 1981 New York Times interview. "There is no excuse for foundering in heavy weather these days.''
Among his achievements was helping to establish the Great Lakes Maritime Academy at Traverse City, Mich., improving the productivity of Great Lakes vessels and advocating construction of 140-foot icebreaking tugs for winter navigation. He worked for the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers' Association until he retired in 1982.
He was born in Agenda, Kan., and grew up in Milaca, Minn. His family said he had to hitchhike to St. Paul, Minn., to take the entrance exam for the Coast Guard Academy in 1932. When he passed and needed a $200 entry fee, his home town chipped in to cover the cost, which he repaid within a year.
He graduated in 1936 and was assigned to posts in New England until being sent to Harvard University, where he received a master's degree in business administration in 1942. He resumed military duties in New York, then was assigned as commanding officer of the patrol frigate USS Hoquiam in the Pacific. He later commanded the USS Sausalito in the Pacific and served as commander of Escort Division 27. In the early 1950s, he commanded the cutter Storis, stationed in Juneau, Alaska.
Adm. Trimble returned to headquarters in Washington and served in various jobs, including comptroller of the Coast Guard. After commanding the cutter Duane in the North Atlantic for two years, he became commanding officer of the Coast Guard base in Boston.
He then returned to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington and served as chief of staff before being promoted to the rank of rear admiral in 1964. In 1966, he was appointed vice admiral and vice commandant of the Coast Guard, the second in command of the service, serving until 1970.
During that time, Adm. Trimble was made chairman of the Interagency Task Force that developed plans for the newly enacted Department of Transportation, of which the Coast Guard would become a member. He received the Legion of Merit for his performance in this assignment. On retirement in 1970, he was presented with his second Distinguished Service Medal.
His wife of 43 years, Iva McClaren Trimble, died in 1979.
Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Marie Waring of Palm Harbor; two children from his first marriage, Sharrol Foels of Annapolis and James Trimble of Palm Harbor; two stepdaughters, Melinda Waring of Davis, Calif., and Katherine Smith of Stevensville, Mich.; three sisters; 11 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren.