ST. PETERSBURG — He was the picture of health. He swam. He worked out. He snacked on raw cabbage. On March 24, the Times ran a photo of Norman Ott, his wife, Ruth Ann, and a tennis coach demonstrating shoulder stretches.
Mr. Ott died the next day, March 25, of an apparent heart attack. He was 78.
"He was always the adventurous one," said his brother, Tom Ott, 77, who along with two sisters remained in their hometown of Allentown, Pa., their entire lives. Their brother, Norman, lived in Turkey, Vietnam and Cuba as well as in Africa and the Middle East.
As a member of the Underwater Demolition Team that pre-dated the Navy Seals, Mr. Ott taught the Mercury Seven astronauts to scuba dive.
He joined the CIA in 1962, the same year he married Ruth Ann. His family knew little about his work.
"He didn't tell us, and we didn't ask," his sister, Leanne Smith, 78, said after Mr. Ott's funeral service on Monday.
"And if we did ask, we would get kind of a sideways answer," said Jeanette Bender, 83, another sister.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Ott took his family to Istanbul. He pushed them off the couch and onto the basketball court, the ski slopes, or into the water. He led Boy Scouts in swims across the Bosporus Strait, from Europe to Asia. The current made the trip longer than a mile. Once, Mr. Ott and his daughter, Kathy, nearly got plowed under by a commercial fishing trawler.
He moved to St. Petersburg in 1989, and finished his career as CIA intelligence adviser to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm.
In retirement, Mr. Ott took his granddaughter snorkeling in St. Thomas, organized trips with friends and started a tennis tournament for players over age 70.
His family remembers a quizzical smile, his lips in a diagonal line when he was about to weigh in with an opinion. They remember his rare indulgences: an addiction to Hershey's chocolate; a Key lime pie recipe they found only after his death, in his Rolodex.
A genial host, Mr. Ott struck up conversations easily. When guests had to leave, he walked them to their cars and waved at them from his driveway.
His own exit came quickly. After playing tennis, Mr. Ott phoned his wife from the Vinoy Renaissance Resort to say he would come home soon. His body was discovered in the resort's steam room.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.