Vera Paktor, who contributed to United States maritime policy as a journalist, lawyer, and administrator, could well be called the “first lady” of the seaways; certainly, at many points in her career, she was the “first woman.”
Paktor was born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 14, 1949, to Julian and Serena (Moskovitz) Paktor. She had an older sister, Natalie. The family emigrated to escape the 1956 revolution and moved to Chicago; she became a naturalized citizen in 1966. She obtained a degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1972 and certification to practice maritime law in Washington, D.C., in 1981.
In 1977, Paktor was appointed a vice president of Great Lakes and European Lines, the youngest person and first woman to be named a corporate officer in that field. She was district director of the Federal Maritime Commission—again, the first woman appointed to that position—from 1978 to 1981, receiving an award for meritorious service. In 1994, she was the first woman ever to be considered as a candidate for administrator of the commission, a presidential appointment (a retired rear admiral received the position). Paktor also established Communicore Inc., a public relations firm based in Evanston, Illinois, that dealt in maritime issues, served as executive vice president of the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association, and was instrumental in writing the 1985 Maritime Act. She was one of the crew that brought a vintage tugboat via the St. Lawrence Seaway to Chicago in the early 1980s for the Chicago Yacht Club’s clubhouse on Lake Michigan. In 1982, she became the first woman elected president of the Propeller Club of the United States, a trade organization for executives in the international maritime industry.
Paktor was a contributing editor for Seaway Review and wrote more than a hundred articles on maritime subjects for that publication, including “The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy of Kings Point” (1981), “The Emerging National Maritime Policy” (1982), and “Policy Reform in the U.S. Will Come Only When the Great Lakes Region Mobilizes Its Legislators” (1995). Her Federal Regulations and the Freight Forwarders (1992) was the first manual for ships dealing with freight forwarding; this benchmark publication was translated into Spanish in 1995.
In addition, Vera Paktor was active in politics and devoted a great deal of time to the Jewish community in the Chicago area. She managed campaigns for politicians at local and state level, stood for election as Cook County commissioner in 1994 (finishing a close second), and was the youngest member of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Council on Manpower and Economic Advisory Board. She served on the boards of the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center, the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center, Temple Beth El, and Beth Hillel Congregation and also acted as a mentor to many young Jewish individuals.
In 1994, Paktor married Allen Gross, of Chicago. She died on November 15, 1995, in Skokie, Illinois.
Gross, Allen [husband]. Interview with author, Chicago, Ill., 1996; Nelson, Natalie [sister]. Interview with author, Maggie Valley, N.C., 1996; Obituary. Skokie News, November 15, 1995.
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Botnick, Annette Muffs. "Vera Paktor." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 11, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/paktor-vera>.