Rob English didn’t start scuba diving until he was in his 50s. But once he started, he never stopped.
He and his wife, Edie, made hundreds of dives together. The Hamilton Township residents liked diving close to home, off Atlantic City, but they also traveled to some slightly more exotic locations.
Their favorite was Thailand, where they first got bitten by the diving bug. They visited Lop Buri province in 2003, 30-plus years after Rob was sent there by the U.S. Army as a communications specialist. That was during the war in nearby Vietnam, but Thailand wasn’t actually at war, so it was safe enough for Edie to go there as young wife — she and Rob got married shortly after they finished Mainland Regional High School, Rob in 1967, Edie in ’68.
So the two were married 42 years when Rob died last month in Micronesia, in a tragic diving accident. He was 63, and his death shocked everyone who knew him as a diver.
“When we get together, it’s like, ‘How could this happen to someone with his talent?’” said Warren Dagrosa, of Hamilton Township, a close friend since Rob’s first diving lesson — with Dagrosa as his teacher.
Dagrosa is the leader of Hamilton’s Underwater Search and Recovery Team, volunteers who train extensively for emergencies, including in ice diving and “black-water diving.” Rob was a popular, respected second in command on the team.
And Dagrosa said all his friend’s training as a public-safety diver was just a continuation of the underwater education that Rob and Edie — who were “inseparable” — took in all aspects of the sport they loved.
But Edie wasn’t on Rob’s last dive. They were on a live-aboard dive boat, a setup that lets the most dedicated do as many as five dives a day. Edie passed on an early-morning dive to a deep shipwreck, and she knows Rob got separated from the group he went with. No one saw exactly what happened, but his body was found later on the wreck.
So Rob died doing something he loved. His brother, Jeff, 55, of Mullica Township, said he lived the same way.
For as long as Jeff remembers, Rob loved Corvettes, the classic sports car. He turned that passion into his profession, specializing for 23 years in making ’Vettes better than new at his business, Restoration Connection.
Rob could have charged his customers much more, “But he would kind of give a lot of the work away, just to make sure it was done (right),” Jeff said. “It wasn’t just a business to him. It was his love of the cars.”
He thought Rob was the coolest big brother ever when Rob let a teenage Jeff drive his ’Vette. He hasn’t changed that opinion.
“Rob did life right,” his brother said. “He did it well.”
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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