Marine biologist and physiologist, world class scientist, deep sea diver, gas expert and Father of “Nitrox” and pioneer in the development of decompression systems for deep diving, educator, inventor, inspirational speaker, aquanaut, math whiz, “fixer” of all mechanical objects, farmer, patriot, consultant to many various organizations calling on his extensive professional expertise, and lover of fig trees, frogs and turtles, Dr. John Morgan Wells Jr. died on July 28, 2017 at the age of 77 of pancreatic cancer.
Morgan was born in April 12, 1940 to John Morgan Wells Sr. and Evelyn Marks Wells who predeceased him. In addition to his many friends and admirers across the nation and in many parts of the world, left to honor his memory are his three daughters, Rana Wells and Bettina Wells of Mathews, and Annika W. Mayorga (Jeffrey) and granddaughter, Aiyanna, of Santa Fe, New Mexico; his brother, Barry Wells of Roanoke; two nieces, Marcy Wells and Tracy W. Watts; a special friend and longtime partner, Dick Rutkowski, Hyperbarics Int’l, Key Largo, Florida, and his cherished companion, Marianne Krop of Kilmarnock, recently of Virginia Beach, who shared with him many experiences through the years beginning in 1965 and was his devoted, loving supporter and care giver throughout the months he waged his brave battle with cancer.
Dr. Wells graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, in 1962, attended the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and received his Ph.D in marine biology in 1969 from University of California, San Diego. His first “real jobs” were in North Carolina with UNC School of Medicine (physiology instructor) and at the Institute of Marine Biomedical Research. Throughout his long career, he had major involvement with and/or held major positions with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as Director of NOAA Diving Program and NOAA Experimental Diving Unit (in 1993, developed the dive plan for training on dive procedures and safety for examination of the submerged, historic ship, “Monitor”); was active in the Navy’s Sea Lab project, as well as the Tektite II program; and with NASA as it developed information on the impact of space missions on humans. In “semi-retirement,” Morgan used his knowledge of aerospace physiology to help the Air Force solve an air system problem that F-22 jet pilots were reporting. Spurred by his love of research, he built the Bay Lab to investigate the health of local Chesapeake Bay waters. Morgan loved being the human who had lived the longest underwater and his many career adventures—yet, in retirement, he especially delighted in his home off the North River and developing his gardening skills which were famous locally, mainly for his beloved fig trees. Throughout his career, Dr. Wells was a member of many professional associations and received many awards and commendations (too numerous to include here) for his work and the education of all toward the wonders of marine life. Several years ago, after 35 seasons, he retired as Director of the annual NOAA/UHMS Physicians Training Program in Hyperbaric Medicine in Seattle, Washington, attended by U.S. doctors and those from other countries.
Morgan loved his country, loved and felt special attachment to “my buddies” who were with him throughout his professional, often exciting life, was fascinated by any body of water, big or small, loved a good bottle of vodka, loved his house, fig trees and yellow submarine, greatly admired the natives of the South Pacific Islands and Alaska, protected all critters (even spiders), and took humble pride in his work, past and current. He was truly unique, brilliant, quirky, and funny, and we all miss him very much.
A memorial service celebrating Morgan’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 176 Lover’s Lane, Mathews, Va. 23109.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Mathews Maritime Foundation, P.O. Box 1201, Mathews, Va. 23109, or to an organization dedicated to preserving our oceans and bays, or to one whose mission is the humane treatment of animals, domestic or wild.