Technical diving pioneer Bret Gilliam, the co-founder of Technical Diving International (TDI), has passed away at his home in Maine, after struggling with illness following a stroke earlier this year.
Born on 3 February 1951, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Gilliam began diving when he was just 8 years old with the first YMCA scuba diving courses.
He won an ROTC scholarship in 1968 while studying history and political science at the University of Maine, which turned his attention to the Navy’s deep diving project, where he filmed nuclear fast attack submarines before dropping out of university to found his first business, Ocean Tech.
During a career which saw him log more than 19,000 dives, Gilliam worked in a variety of diving and ocean-related jobs, including diving supervisor for Vocaline Air Sea Technology, where he worked to develop nitrox and decompression procedures for the company’s dive teams; founder and president of luxury AMF Yacht Charters; and CEO and Director of Operations for Ocean Quest International. Gilliam also founded VI Divers Ltd., a diver resort catering to both recreational and scientific divers, which had an associated film company used by top Hollywood productions including The Deep, The Abyss, and Miami Vice.
In 1990, Gilliam made a world record dive to 138m (452ft) using just regular air, a record he would go on to break with a 138m (452ft) dive in 1993.
In between the world record-breaking dives he joined the board of directors for the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD), later serving as vice-president of the company, before leaving in 1994 to form technical training agency Technical Diving International (TDI) with co-founder Mitch Skaggs.
Gilliam became president and CEO of dive computer manufacturer UWATEC in 1996, and was instrumental in its sale to Johnson Outdoors, the owner of Scubapro, stepping down from the role when the two brands were merged in 1998.
Gilliam was a widely published and very prolific author, with work published in 72 books and more than 1500 magazine articles, including the high-profile journals of the International Society of Aquatic Medicine (ISAM), Divers Alert Network (DAN), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS), among others.
He was also the publisher and editor of a number of scuba diving magazines, including Scuba Diving, Fathoms Magazine, and Diving Adventure Magazine.
There are few who have contributed so much, from such a variety of angles, to the scuba diving world; he will undoubtedly be sorely missed