Walter E. Blessey Jr. (A&S ’67, L ’70) says that some of his earliest childhood memories were of toddling on Tulane University’s leafy campus. On May 19, he was back under the oaks at the Audubon Tea Room, just a stone’s throw from campus, accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from Tulane University’s Alumni Emeritus Club.
Blessey was born into a family with deep Tulane roots. His father, Walter Blessey Sr., was a two-time Tulane graduate and a beloved member of the school’s engineering faculty for 42 years, including 25 as chair of the civil engineering department. Tulane’s Civil Engineering Building was renamed Blessey Hall after the professor’s retirement, a tribute organized by 350 of his students across 38 states.
Walter Blessey Jr. followed his father to Tulane, earning an undergraduate degree in engineering in 1967 and his law degree in 1970. As a law student, Blessey was elected president of the Tulane University student body and played a key role in defusing several student-administration conflicts during those turbulent times.
Blessey went on to a storied career as a businessman and entrepreneur. After early success trading in oil, he founded Blessey Marine Services in 1978, building it into the nation’s largest fleet of inland tank barge and towing vessels, carrying fuels, feedstocks, LNG and other energy products across the eastern United States. The company now has more than 70 vessels and 800 employees.
“Walter’s phenomenal success reflects grit, ceaseless hard work and a genius for business, but it also reflects his values and deep sense of decency,” Dean David Meyer said in presenting the alumni award.
“A key to his success has been a dedication to investing personally in his employees — hiring them, mentoring them, rewarding them and building a culture where employees are treated as members of a family.”
Meyer also credited Blessey with personally supporting Tulane Law students. When he learned that the law school was making a major effort to create opportunities for students to get more exposure to business and law practice to help develop skills for an increasingly demanding job market, Blessey volunteered to open Blessey Marine to annual visits by students to learn about the business and the important roles that lawyers play in stoking entrepreneurial success.
“When our students visited, he made available his entire executive leadership team and was there to greet them himself — modeling the sort of hands-on, personal leadership that has made him one of Louisiana’s most successful entrepreneurs,” Meyer said.
In accepting the award, Blessey recalled his experiences growing up on Tulane’s campus and then attending as an undergraduate and law student. He credited his formative experiences and the critical thinking skills he developed at Tulane Law School with his success in business.
A second Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Stanley Motta, a 1967 graduate of Tulane’s Freeman School of Business. Motta chairs Copa Holdings, which owns a number of Panama’s most substantial enterprises, including Copa Airlines.
Motta, long a leader in promoting corporate social responsibility and educational opportunity across Central America, also has rallied Tulane’s alumni in Panama to fund annual scholarships for talented Panamanian students to attend Tulane University. The effort has enabled students to earn LLM degrees from Tulane Law in each of the past four years.