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Monday, April 27, 2009 | Sometimes the worst part about losing a friend is getting accustomed to the way things are without him.
Steve Drogin’s friends — thousands of them from around the world — will have to get used to not receiving his frequent e-mails written with a huge blue font and, more importantly, filled with amazing tales and equally wild photographs.
Steve died April 14 while traveling in India. His family — wife Hiro, son Mike and daughter Laura along with Steve’s five grandchildren — will say goodbye to him along with friends on Wednesday.
There will be many friends at the service. He had a pretty magnetic personality.
I think it’s probably safe to say that Steve, the long-time San Diego businessman turned philanthropist, diver, underwater photographer and world traveler was not a calm person. He vented much of the physical energy that he built up by going on amazing voyages to the most out-of-the-way parts of the world. Few of his friends could have been surprised that when he passed, he was about as far away from his home as he could have possibly been.
But he didn’t just have a physical energy he had to vent. His mind was busy too and, for years, letter-writing was enough to give him an outlet for his observations.
Then e-mail emerged. When he discovered the new way of communicating, it made him vastly more prolific. By the time he had an e-mail account, he had cultivated friendships with people living many thousands of miles from his home in La Jolla. E-mail gave him a powerful tool to keep in touch with them — to store and distribute his amazing photos and to pass along news and stories as fast as he could hit a button.
But e-mail came with a problem: electronic messages took away handwriting, letterhead — anything unique about specific typewriters, or personal notes were wiped away. The efficiency came with a cost to personality.
This was unacceptable to Drogin. He didn’t fit into a format — his energy couldn’t be standardized and he had to figure out how his e-mails would communicate his passion. He decided to set his e-mail software to ensure his emails came across in a massive blue text.
Drogin was a major financial supporter of voiceofsandiego.org and, over time, I became a regular recipient of his big, blue, boisterous messages. I came to love them. They were updates on his travels, one-line “Atta-boys!” or pictures of sharks. I didn’t even know about Easter Island nor could I have ever found it on a map but I know what it smells like now, thanks to Drogin. I know that it will be tough for his friends to go without those notes because I know that it will be tough for me to.
Our donors know they don’t get to try to change anything we write; they can’t direct our editorial work but I listen to them just like I listen to everyone.
Steve, I found, dealt in stories — they were his currency. He heard them, relayed them and then sought out more of them. And this is why he loved what we were doing so much. His e-mails were always like this one from October Just saw the photo on the front of the site… Worth 10,000 words! Diving with great white sharks tomorrow. Won’t have me to kick around for 10 days..
When two journalists from Japan came to San Diego to write about voiceofsandiego.org, they asked if they could meet with a donor so they could get an idea of who helps us fund this operation. We now have 827 donors but the first to come to my mind was Drogin. I knew they would have fun. The two reporters left their interview with Drogin and reported that it was, simply, “interesting.”
I have no doubt that it was. If it was possible to speak in big blue text, Drogin did. When he learned something, he could not contain it.
Steve knew that great stories come from two efforts: great experiences and great research. It was natural then that he was not only a supporter of ours but also of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Steve built a submarine of his own — the DeepSea — and proceeded to host dozens of researchers on it or allow them to pursue studies. Last year, the researchers packed into the submarine discovered a new species of fish along with worrisome news about the underwater ecology in Mexico’s Gulf of California.
It was almost as though he felt the world could never have too many stories — so he did what he could to make sure that researchers and writers had great experiences and did great research.
“He was a shockingly passionate guy,” said Christian McDonald, Scripps’ diving safety officer. “There was only one degree of separation between anyone in our business and Steve Drogin. He absolutely knew everyone.”
Drogin wanted to see people discover things. He wanted them to tell the world about what they discovered. And he flew (and sailed) around the world to do his part in that effort.
Steve’s son, Mike Drogin, has been fielding nonstop phone calls from around the world. Friends from as far away as he ever traveled. Mike Drogin said the extent to which his father had cultivated those friendships had never been as clear as it was now becoming after his sudden death.
“He just had a passion for life and for experiences. A lot of guys like him collect cars and planes. He collected friendships,” Mike Drogin told me.
Each friendship, of course, earned Drogin another set of stories. And I have no doubt he would have kept traveling the world to exchange them for new ones until he simply could not move. I guess that was what he did, actually. His friends were left shocked but his memorial service will no doubt truly be filled with as many laughs and tales as tears.
Luckily for his friends and family, he wrote his stories down — in big blue type.
Steve Drogin is survived by his wife Hiro, his two children, Michael Drogin and his wife Karen of San Diego, Laura Drogin Lee and her husband Bruce Lee of Winnetka, Illinois. He is also survived by five grandchildren James, Jillian, Julianna, Genevieve and Christopher. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to:
Steve Drogin Memorial CMBC Fellowship Fund, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Attention: Anne Middleton, 9500 Gilman Drive, MC0210, La Jolla, CA 92093-0210.
Holualoa Foundation for Arts & Culture, Donkey Mill Art Center, 78-6670 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa, Hawaii 96725, 808-322-3362
And the San Diego Hall of Champions, 2131 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101.