A painful loss — our diving friend and mentor
by Rob Tiller
On Wednesday, we got shocking news: our friend Scott Powell had died. He was 44. Just the previous week, he’d led our trip to Dominica, where we’d done a baker’s dozen dives together. We also shared the first leg of an epic journey (for us, 34 hours) to get back home, which involved lost luggage and missed planes and an unplanned overnight stop in San Juan, where we had our last dinner together.
We’d known Scott for about six years – as long as we’d been scuba diving. As owner of Down Under Surf and Scuba, he provided the base for almost all of the diving courses we’ve taken, and helped me reach the level of PADI Master Scuba Diver. From Scott we got our first information on Bonaire, Roatan, the Galapagos, and Fiji. He personally introduced us to North Carolina coastal diving, and taught my course in wreck diving. And of course, he sold us almost all of our diving gear. Once you get the diving bug, it’s a powerful thing, and he was our prime mentor.
Scott had seemingly limitless energy and an upbeat zest for life. Unlike a lot of intensely adventurous types, he also loved meeting and talking with people. He was a gifted storyteller, with a good sense of humor. He was incredibly generous with his time, and kind and considerate. He was politically conservative, but genuinely interested in and tolerant of other perspectives. Even when I disagreed with his views, I was grateful for the experience of exchanging ideas with mutual respect.
At the end of the Dominica trip, Scott strongly encouraged us to come to the next scuba club meeting scheduled for Tuesday to hear a speaker from Duke talk about dealing with injuries from poisonous sea flora and fauna. We did so, and so got to see him on his last night.
We got there a little late, and most of the tables were taken. When he spotted us having trouble finding a seat, he hopped up and introduced us to some congenial new people with spare table space. He kicked off the meeting with his usual warmth and wit, and wrapped it up the same way. When we were leaving, he mentioned that he’d read my new blog post on Dominica (see below) that afternoon, and liked it. Would I mind if he shared it with the group? Of course not, I said, thanking him.
The next day, I heard that he went back to his shop after the meeting and was working there alone when he collapsed. Someone (I’m guessing he himself) called 911, but when the EMTs arrived, they had to break into the shop. He was gone. I’d guess he had a heart attack, but have no further details.
His memorial service on Saturday morning. The crowd at Brown-Wynne in Cary was big – standing room only. There was a presiding pastor type, but the heart of the service was the words of his friends and family. I particularly liked the remarks of Bill, Jim, and Sid, Scott’s fellow dive professionals, who were plainly inspired by and devoted to Scott. There were also a couple of friends from Y Guides, which Scott seems to have very much enjoyed with his older son.
His wife, whom I did not know, spoke briefly and well, noting that Scott’s nature was to love people. She read a letter from their son to Scott about the fun things they did together, and looking forward to learning scuba diving. It was touching, and of course, painful. Painful in quite a different way was the closing sermonette by the pastor, who in stentorian tones pressed all present to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and be Saved from eternal Damnation. This didn’t sound at all like the Scott I knew, and was my least favorite part.
But the important point didn’t get lost: Scott touched and enriched many lives. It was good to share with others a moment of recognition of that gift. He was inspiring in his wide-ranging curiosity, his kindness and generosity, his energy and resourcefulness, and his understated courage.
I imagined we’d have many more adventures together, and many more discussions about the greatest places to dive and most amazing things to see, and about the optimal gear and configurations. I expected we’d have many more good meals and good laughs. I’d planned to debrief him carefully about diving in Africa, and many other things he knew about. It’s hard to believe, what seemed natural and inevitable is suddenly impossible. This will take some time to process.