Dr. Joseph Bauer Dies at 76

7/26/2007 7:23:39 PM
Physician, Dive Historian and Co-Founder of History of Diving Museum Succumbs to Illness

The dive industry lost a stellar citizen in early April. Dr. Joseph Bauer, retired physician, co-founder of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum and dive historian, died after a short illness. He was 76.

Dr. Sally Bauer, museum president and co-founder, told DAN her husband died after a very brief battle with cancer. “I am stunned since it was so very unexpected,” she said. “We had only two weeks from the time of diagnosis until he was gone from us.

“Joe was my love, my partner, my best friend and the smartest person I ever knew. He was truly the brains of the team, the idea man; I was the implementer, the doer.

“He was complicated, sensitive, passionate, at times difficult, driven by his desire to establish and nurture the Diving Museum and nearly always right. His death is a very great loss for me and for our new museum, a truly great legacy. Some of the Keys dive shops are flying their dive flags at half-mast in his honor. Touching.”

The Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, which is based in Islamorada, boasts artifacts collected by the Bauers for more than four decades. It is a historic progression of diving technology from every era and from every part of the world.

Timothy Hemsoth, curator of exhibits at the museum, said it was “a four-decade endeavor for Joe and his wife Sally” to collect all the artifacts they did. “It was his life's dream to get the museum opened and functioning,” Hemsoth said. “It took over Joe and Sally's lives, almost literally, for the last seven years."

The 6,000-square-foot (557 square-meter) museum, which opened in 2006, uses artifacts, antiques, books, documents, photographs and oral history to tell the story of diving. A highlight is the collection of hard-hat diving helmets from throughout the world and early suits that allowed the first deep-water diving. “Its exhibits tell the international story of man’s attempts to explore, understand and venture under the sea,” said Hemsoth, adding: “It also celebrates the special role that South Florida and the Florida Keys played in this untold story.”

Bauer became interested in saltwater aquariums, which led to a passion for diving. In the 1960s, he bought a Mark V-style dive helmet as a curio. "It got under my skin," he once said to his wife. "It's something I found very appealing."

The Bauers wrote and lectured worldwide on the history of diving.

Keith Sahm, director of marketing at Sunset House, Grand Cayman, recalled a Bauer visit to Grand Cayman. “I remember him bringing those old dive helmets to Sunset House for awhile and telling the staff all the details of his diving helmets [and] hand-crank air supply systems, and I remember his unique collection of vintage rebreathers,” Sahm said. “Also, I remember all their stories and information on the queen angel fish out on Sunset Reef.”

The Bauers, both retired physicians, moved to the Keys from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1997. Both avid scuba divers and historians, they wanted to share their appreciation of their favorite pastime. “Joe did a lot for diving history and had so much more knowledge that is now lost,” Sally Bauer said.

Bauer was widely known for his work in pioneering procedures in laparoscopic surgery, often described as "keyhole surgery" to ameliorate patient pain.

"Dr. Bauer was widely known in the dive community, but he's known worldwide for his medical accomplishments," Hemsoth said.

The Bauers had journeyed to Cleveland for diagnosis and potential treatment. A memorial is planned at 2 p.m. on May 5 at Jardine Funeral Home, 15822 Pearl Road, Strongsville, Ohio. Plans for a memorial in the Keys are incomplete. In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made in his memory to the History of Diving Museum, P.O. Box 897, Islamorada, Fla. 33036. <