My heart broke when I read the news a few minutes ago that Filmmaker Mike DeGruy died in a helicopter crash in Australia. I was waiting for my son to come down from his friend's apartment where he had been watching the Superbowl, and I was browsing through the Huffington Post app on my phone, and I saw a story about filmmakers dying in a crash. You never think you will actually know the people...And when I saw his name, my heart skipped a beat and my jaw dropped. Not Mike! Mike is so alive, so vibrant, so funny, so kind. Mike had a head full of silvery grey hair and a smile that lit up a room - or the boat in this case.
I met Mike when Discovery Channel sent me to Australia in 2008 to blog (Expedition Shark) during the filming of their Shark Week documentary, Mysteries of the Shark Coast.
I remember clear as day. Here's this world-famous and Emmy-award-winning filmmaker, and he was so kind, and so interested in my thoughts and views. That first night, we spent a lot of time talking about evolution and Christianity and the book I was working on (in fact, the dialogue is in my first chapter lead!), and I was likewise fascinated by his gnarled up arm. "What happened, shark bite?" I joked - since we were about to spend the next 10 days diving with sharks. "Actually... Yes." he replied. Then he told the tale of how he was attacked by a shark in Enewetak atoll when he was diving, and barely made it to the boat to be rescued. "What kind of shark?" I asked. "You don't want to know," he said. "Gray reef sharks." I didn't "want to know" because they were the very sharks we would be diving with for the next ten days... along with whitetips, silvertips, and the possible tiger and hammerhead (both of which we did see while there).
I kept in touch with Mike now and then because my ex-boyfriend Sean and I had talked about producing a documentary based on a story Sean knew about in the Solomon Islands and Mike was interested in producing it. After Sean and I stopped seeing one another I'd check in with Mike now and then by email to say hi. Our paths never crossed again but I deeply admire him and his work, and especially the sunshine with which he lit up a room and the kindness he showed me. He was one of a kind. I treasure the time I spent on that boat - it was the absolute BEST assignment of my life, hands down. You can read my experiences from the Discovery Channel blog here (Fear) and here (the rest of the Expedition Shark blogs). I also blogged about it on my Bohemian Adventures blog here (shark reflections), here (shark mysteries) and here (i love my job!).
And so life passes... my deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. He left the world a better place for his passion for the sea and the work he left behind. Tell someone you love them. Life is too short to waste. Make it count. As I wrote in the first blog of my series, Fear:
"The reality is, everything in life carries risks. Driving in my car, living in a city, bearing children, flying, crossing the street. One thing I know for certain: I risk that when I am born, I will die. But this I also have found to be true. Life is best lived in service of those who can not speak for or easily help themselves – and that includes marine wildlife."
And one thing we can say for sure, Mike lived his life - his career - in service of marine wildlife and other conservation issues that he and many others felt passionate about saving. And the world is definitely better for it. I leave you with some of my favorite images of Mike.
What a fun time - they climbed right in with the shark!
Mike had the greatest smile and laugh!All geared up and ready to dive.
They captured a very small juvenile shark in what they discovered was probably a shark nursery in the lagoon at the center of the atoll (Osprey Reef). This was a night dive.
Mike holding a coconut rattle, used to call in sharks.
Mike and Celine Cousteau on board the Undersea Explorer.
One of the few photos of Mike and I together (on my camera, anyway, since someone else had to shoot this from my camera!) You will be missed!