TAMPA — Gordon Loetz dived under thrashing waves off Puerto Rico to save his wife. She survived. He did not.
It was a final act of generosity that his friends said was just what they would have expected of him.
The 59-year-old chief executive officer of GunnAllen Financial drowned Friday after a fishing charter boat capsized.
Described by friends and co-workers as an energetic, thoughtful sportsman with a reputation as the family prankster, Mr. Loetz married his high school sweetheart, Deborah, 32 years ago. He spent weekdays at work in Tampa and at his Sarasota condo. On weekends, he often traveled to his home in Severna Park, Md., near his hometown of Glen Burnie.
On Friday, the 31-foot Bertram that Mr. Loetz and his family were on flipped while trying to plow through 15- to 20-foot seas near the breakers a half-mile off Isla Verde in Puerto Rico. The boat was stocked with life vests, but the four passengers — Mr. Loetz, his wife, their son Carter and his girlfriend, Loren Ellis — and two crew members were not wearing them.
Mr. Loetz scrambled to reach his wife, trapped inside the cabin. Inside, he pounded on a window, but they couldn't get out. With their air pocket shrinking, he grabbed her. They both took a deep breath and swam down and out into the swirling surf. Their son administered CPR to Mrs. Loetz, who was taken to a Puerto Rican hospital.
John Sykes, the 72-year-old investor who controls the holding company that owns GunnAllen, said the company plans to name a replacement today for its chief executive officer. But he lost more than an executive.
"After my wife, he was my best friend, like a son to me," Sykes said.
The two go back 30 years. Mr. Loetz, who sold his financial advisory service in Severna Park to ING, handled Sykes' personal financial affairs for decades. He moved on to be a director and until 2001 was chief operating officer of Sykes Enterprises Inc., the Tampa call center company founded by Sykes.
In November, Sykes installed Mr. Loetz as chief executive of GunnAllen Financial. His first task was to create a plan to grow a financial services company with 2008 revenues of $120 million and a network of 750 independent broker-dealers in 50 states just as the financial markets were knee-deep in meltdown. Sykes has visions of $500 million in annual revenues in five years.
Mr. Loetz developed a plan for creating more financial products and services for the network to sell, such as a recently launched tax advisory service.
"The new chief executive at GunnAllen is going to implement what Gordie laid out the past five months," Sykes said.
Mr. Loetz was known for volunteer work in Maryland. He continued coaching the Green Hornets soccer team after his four boys — three of them triplets and all of them now college age — had moved on. He was also chairman of Chesapeake Academy and a board member of the Summit School.
Services, scheduled for Saturday, are being handled by Barranco Funeral Home in Severna Park.
Lifelong pal Ned Spiker was among those who expected that Mr. Loetz might risk his own life to protect someone else.
"He just loved to help people," he recalled.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.