John Casey


Author Susan Casey

John Casey
May 22, 1935-June 30, 2019

On June 30, during the orientation and safety meeting for Leg 4 of Visions ‘19, I felt my phone vibrate inside my pocket. It rang for a long time. The Atlantis was still in port, so when the meeting wrapped up, I left the ship and stepped out on the NOAA pier. My cousin, Mike Casey, had called with bad news: his father and my uncle, John Casey, had just passed away. Hearing this, I felt sadness flooding in. John was my father’s brother, older by just a few years, and when my own father, Ron Casey, had died suddenly eleven years ago, John had become a kind of surrogate dad to me, too. Although he lived in a small town in Southern Ontario and I lived on the north shore of Maui, we talked regularly, often for hours. We would reminisce and share stories about Ron, the usual stuff, but our conversations ranged widely. Right up to his final days, John’s mind was sharp, his interests were many. And what he loved to talk about the most was science.

New black smoker in John Casey venting site on El Guapo. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI;V19.

He’d graduated from the University of Toronto with an engineering degree, did a four-year stint as a professional football player, then taught calculus for fifteen years. (People who excel at advanced math and pro football, of course, not making up a large subset of the population.) After his teaching career ended, he built houses and managed larger building projects. With his life partner, Wilda Alford, he devoted much time to animal rescue, specifically cats, and the two created a no-kill shelter in their community. He was also an avid skier. Meanwhile, throughout his life John had a personal passion for cosmology; for the bigger questions about the origins of the universe, and of life. I loved to send him books on those subjects, all of which he inhaled, before calling me up to discuss them.

Beautiful red tubeworm plumes, sulfide worms and delicate black smokers delineate the new John Casey vent site on the side of El Guapo, International District Hydrothermal Field

He had just turned 84 when he died, as a series of health challenges finally overwhelmed him. He’d lost the lower halves of both legs, and had survived a small stroke, but it was an infection that got him in the end. If it were not for that, he was the kind of guy you could easily imagine living to 100. I can’t imagine a more wonderful tribute to a man so endlessly curious about how the Earth came to be than the one that Deb Kelley so graciously made, naming a newly formed vent on El Guapo after him. If this fledgling has even half of John Casey’s tenacity, it’ll be around for a long time to come.