Albert Tillman, Dive Education Pioneer, Author and Educator
Albert Alvin Tillman, 76, co-founder of NAUI and the Los Angeles County instructor program passed away January 16 in Seattle, WA.
Albert Tillman was born in Los Angeles in 1928. At the age of 10 on the beach at Palos Verdes, CA, he took a pair of goggles and took his first plunge beneath the water. This initial plunge led to a 65 year life as a free diver and later a scuba diver and industry leader.
Tillman attended the University of Southern California where he earned his undergraduate degree in Public Administration while playing football for the USC Trojans. During World War II he was drafted and served in the Pacific Theater. Stationed in Hawaii he continued his diving and took classes at the University of Hawaii. After returning from the war he went to graduate school at USC and Loyola earning his tuition by working as a professional wrestler.
In 1949 he married his high school sweetheart Ruth McIntyre who preceded him in death in 1994. They had two children during their marriage, Laura and Thomas.
In 1952 he was Sports Director sent by Los Angeles County and proposed setting up public training for the new Aqua-Lung equipment that was quickly gaining popularity with fellow free divers. In 1953 he went to Scripps Institute of Oceanography with County Lifeguard Bev Morgan to take a course designed for scientists by Conrad Limbaugh. Tillman and Morgan took this basic template and designed the first organized public classes in skin and scuba diving. The following year they implemented the first instructor certification courses in the world. The Los Angeles County program continues as one of the most rigorous instructor programs in the world.
In 1955 Tillman went to work as a Professor at California State University in Los Angles. While there he created the first university degree program in recreation and leisure studies and wrote the first college text books in that same area. He also started the first college scuba diving club in the United States. Tillman retired as an Emeriti Professor in 1984 and continued teaching part time at the college level until 1995.
In 1957 Tillman with Zale Parry produced and directed the International Underwater Film Festivals that closely mimicked the Cannes Film Festival by honoring outstanding underwater photographers and their underwater films.
In 1959 Tillman was working part-time as a contributing editor for Skin Diver Magazine. Working with fellow editor Neal Hess, they created NAUI, the first international scuba diving certification agency. Tillman ran the agency part-time until 1969 and continued actively training dive instructors for NAUI until the mid-1980’s. NAUI continues to be one of the largest training agencies and maintains offices worldwide.
In 1966 Tillman took a sabbatical from teaching and moved to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. In Freeport he built UNEXSO, the world’s first dedicated diving resort. In 1969 he sold UNEXSO and went back to teaching in California. UNEXSO remains one of the premier diving destinations even today.
In 1970 Tillman drove up the West Coast looking for a new location to build a diving resort. He ended up on Orcas Island looking at the possibility of purchasing Rosario Resort. While on Orcas he purchased a farm out in the Doe Bay Area. This farm became the new home base for the Tillman Family. While Tillman continued to teach in California part of the year and travel around the world for the diving industry he settled in on Orcas during breaks in his schedule and began writing and researching several book projects. Over the years Tillman wrote books on diverse topics such as art, book collecting, recreation and diving. Several more books are partially done and will be completed by long time friend and fellow diving pioneer Zale Parry and his son Thomas.
In 1992 Tillman and his wife moved to Anacortes because of Ruth’s declining health. They quickly became part of the community and Albert became actively involved in the Senior Center and other groups and the community helped care for Ruth until her death in 1994. Tillman continued work on his books and managed the Anacortes Book and Paper Shows. He became well known in the book collecting circles as being the world’s foremost expert on pop-up and moveable books, having a personal collection of over 5,000.
In 2001 Tillman flew to Grand Cayman Island to be one of the inaugural inductees into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame along with other pioneer divers such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Hans Hass, Sylvia Earle and Canadian Underwater Photographer Jack McKinney. At the Hall of Fame event Tillman became reacquainted with Jack McKinney’s widow Patricia McKinney who was there to accept the honor posthumously for Jack. For Tillman it was “Love at First Site” even though they had known each other through the diving industry for over 30 years. After a short romance Patricia and Albert were married at a small ceremony in Los Angeles. Patricia sold her home and moved to Anacortes.
Tillman was recognized for his achievements in the fields of diving and recreation many times. Aside from his Hall of Fame induction he had earlier been one of the first inductees into the United States Hall of Fame/Reaching Out Award as well as receiving lifetime achievement awards from diving agencies worldwide. Tillman was also technical advisor for television and film on stories that related to diving and even wrote several scripts for television shows such as Sea Hunt. Tillman was an award winning underwater photographer and filmmaker with numerous magazine covers and international awards.
Tillman is survived by wife Patricia of Anacortes, WA and her family, son Thomas Tillman and his wife Stephanie of Orcas Island, daughter Laura Winningham and her husband Jon of Anacortes. Albert also had four grandchildren, Zachery and Sabina Tillman of Orcas Island and Michael and Brandi Winningham of Anacortes.
A massive cerebral hemorrhage was the cause of death. Private services are not scheduled at this time