PORTLAND — Joseph Gallant Jr. was considered the father of scuba diving in Maine.

“He was a diving guru, really,” said his daughter Deborah Gallant.

In the 1950s, Mr. Gallant brought to Maine the diving techniques he learned while stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Back then, diving equipment wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today, and his daughter Linda Palmer remembers him making his own diving suit.

“I remember the pattern on the floor and the glue that held it together,” she said.

She remembers going to the beach with her sisters to watch her father dive. “We’d sit out on the shore and watch the inner tube and the red-and-white diver’s flag,” Palmer said.

It was a hobby that turned into a part-time job, as he instructed more than 5,000 students and coordinated clubs. He continued diving until he was 79, taking his last dive in Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth.

Mr. Gallant died Saturday at the age of 91.

Mr. Gallant, who grew up in Portland, would tell his children and grandchildren stories about his first job.

Each time he told the story about his first job, his age would change. He had a lot of responsibility as a young boy, delivering dresses for a seamstress.

His thirst for knowledge started early. He attended Portland Junior Tech School and the University of Maine after graduating from Portland High School.

Throughout his life, if he didn’t know about something, he would research it until all of his questions were answered, his daughters said.

As a musician with an appreciation for Dixieland jazz, he played the harmonica in a 75-piece band.

“Up to camp, you’d wake up to him playing the harmonica in the morning,” his daughter Anne Marie Rosenfield remembers.

“He always had that harmonica in his pocket and he’d pull it out at all times,” Deborah Gallant said. It was through music that he met his wife, Avis, while she played trumpet in the Portland Junior Symphony. Soon after they met, he joined the Army to serve during World War II. He also proposed to Avis.

Before shipping out to the South Pacific, Mr. Gallant was stationed in Portland, Ore. His wife remembers taking a train west with her mother. The four-day, four-night trip brought them to where Mr. Gallant was stationed, and the couple got married in a Baptist church.

“We were together for five days when he got his orders they were leaving. So mother and I took the train back to Maine. It was the last time I saw him for over three years,” his wife said.

Together, they raised three daughters and enjoyed the oceanfront in Maine. They also traveled, mostly to tropical islands, to dive and explore.

“The underwater is so fascinating,” said his wife, who joined Mr. Gallant on a few diving excursions. “He was inquisitive, a very inquisitive mind.”

She said the technology behind diving has changed significantly since the days when he started, but the fascination with the undersea world that kept him diving for most of his life never changed.


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