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Dive industry mourns tech pioneer Bret Gilliam

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Bret Gilliam
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The global diving industry is mourning the loss of technical diving pioneer Bret Gilliam, who died yesterday (8 October) aged 72. Earlier this year he had suffered a significant stroke that led to a form of vascular dementia, and he had sadly not been well for some time.

Gilliam is perhaps most famous for being one of the co-founders of training agency Technical Diving International (TDI), but he also had a hand in many other dive-related businesses, most notably Uwatec and G2 Publishing, which produced Fathoms magazine.

Bret Gilliam was born in February 1951 at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and had two siblings (tragically, his younger brother Chris was murdered aged 16 at a concert in Puerto Rico in 1972).

He started dive training in 1959 with the YMCA, while his family were stationed at Naval Air Station Key West.

In 1971, Gilliam became a diving supervisor for Vocaline Air Sea Technology, and during his stint with them he developed their nitrox and decompression procedures, as well as nurturing an interest in underwater photography.

He was applauded for heroism by the US Virgin Islands' Governor in 1972 after going to the aid of his dive buddy Rod Temple, who was attacked and killed by oceanic whitetip sharks off St Croix. Gilliam ended up having to do an out-of-air ascent from great depth after the abortive rescue attempt, and had to be evacuated to Puerto Rico for treatment for DCI.

1972 also saw the creation of his consulting company Ocean Tech. The year after, he founded dive resort VI Divers Ltd in St Croix, and as well as catering for recreational divers and scientific dive teams, he also set up a division for filming and studio support, which saw him involved in films and documentaries including The Deep, and Abyss, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.

In 1977 he founded AMF Yacht Charters Ltd, specialising in providing luxury vessels up to 115 metres in length.

Both AMF Yacht Charters and VI Divers Ltd were sold in 1985, and then in 1988, Gilliam set up Ocean Quest International, which became the world's largest sport diving operation before he sold up in 1990.

In 1991, he joined the late-Tom Mount, Billy Deans and Dick Rutkowski on the board of directors for International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD), before joining Mitch Skaggs and Tanya Burnett in 1994 to form the training agency Technical Diving International (TDI).

Gilliam took over as president and CEO of Uwatec USA in 1996, and was instrumental in assisting Uwatec's founder and owner Heinz Ruchti with the sale of the company to Johnson Outdoors the following year for nearly $50 million.

He was also the author, or co-author, of more than 70 books, and had produced over 1,500 magazine articles.

He received innumerable awards over the years, including a NOGI for sports/education in 2012, and Legend of the Sea at Beneath the Sea for nine years in a row from 2005-2013.

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Forrest Packebush
Forrest Packebush
8 months ago

Bret you will be missed and never forgotten. Many of the things I learned from you are still shared each day with newer tech divers in which I teach and mentor. Your knowledge and friendship will live forever!

Donna Jones
Donna Jones
8 months ago

Bret and Fred co- wrote a very big coffee table book titled; Diving Pioneers and Innovators, a series of in depth interviews that is totally amazing. He will be missed. I took 3 liveaboard trips with him et al over the years, and the most amazing was Cocos Island. Then there was PNG where I got to meet Gretchen and Patti. Solomon Islands, where I had to go another time it was so amazing. So much to say, so much to loose in a great guy! Blowing bubbles for us in the next great unknown.

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Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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