Lee Spence Q&A
YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY EXPERIENCED A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS IN YOUR LIFE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT, AND WHY?
I am proudest of my role in the founding of the International Diving Institute, which is a nationally accredited school that teaches underwater welding, surface supplied air diving, hyperbaric chamber operation, salvage, rigging, safety, rescue, hazardous materials control, etc. enabling literally hundreds of men and women to completely change their lives and their income potential in a matter of months by learning the skills necessary to become dive tenders, commercial divers, and even ROV operators and technicians. By the time I left it in 2018, IDI had grown into a multimillion-dollars a year business. But it was not the money that makes me proud, it is the positive impact that the Institute continues to have on so many lives.
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS SMOOTH. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A SETBACK OR TRAGEDY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED, HOW YOU DEALT WITH IT, AND THE IMPACT IT HAS HAD ON YOU?
Like anyone who is a pioneer in a field, I have had my share of setbacks as I dealt with petty bureaucrats, claim jumpers, liars and thieves. However, the problems they caused were minor compared to losing my wife, Lauren, who died after a near drowning when she was suddenly pitched into the water just as she was stepping from a friend’s research vessel we had been staying on onto the seawall to which it was tied. The “accident’ was caused when a harbor patrol boat, ignoring the “NO WAKE” law, which was his duty to enforce, sped past the research vessel causing the wake from his boat to violently roll all of the vessels along the seawall. She was the absolute love of my life and even eight months later, I still get choked up and shed tears every day over her loss. I have dealt with her passing by focusing entirely on my shipwreck research and ongoing expedition, knowing that is exactly what she would want me to do if she was still here. She would be happy being out on the ocean, photographing and recording our finds. I am now in the process of buying the research vessel from which she fell, and will be renaming it “For Lauren,” so the discoveries it makes will be in her name, but the sadness of losing her and how I feel will also be in the pronunciation of the vessel’s name.
DO YOU SET ASIDE “ME-TIME” IN YOUR CALENDAR, AND WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME TO RELAX?
I don’t do any drugs at all and I am not a big drinker, but I do have a way to relax and escape the ordinary pressures of business and life, and that is my shipwreck research. Whether done in a library, a dusty archive, or online, researching shipwrecks allows me to relax and totally escape the world around me as I delve into and solve the mysteries of the past. I remember one time when I was all alone in the stacks of the National Archives and I found a document for which I had long been searching. I had found the final piece of a puzzle as to where a steamer, loaded with gold, had gone down. I was suddenly jumping up and down and yelling with glee and joy, much like a football player making the winning touchdown, who spikes the ball and dances a jig. It’s part of my work, but that’s how I relax.
WHAT’S THE MOST MAGICAL PLACE YOU’VE DISCOVERED WHERE YOU CAN GO TO CHILL OUT?
Relaxing in the warm sun on the deck of a boat anchored over a shipwreck in clear Caribbean waters with a rum and coke in hand and trusted friends around, is the way I like to chill out. As they say “It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.”
DOES PHILANTHROPY PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR LIFE, TO WHAT EXTENT AND HOW?
I don’t think of what I do as philanthropy, but yes, I do give a great deal away. I give in the form of my money, artifacts, time, friendship, advice and knowledge. Collectively, it’s amounted to many millions of dollars. I share my knowledge through mentoring and in the form of my books. My books are not fiction, they are factual, heavily researched and more like encyclopedias, which, if properly used, can make a fortune for the reader. Even though some readers of my books could become “competition,” I actually wish them success. I truly like the thought of helping others succeed. Its my way of respecting and thanking the many fine people who had faith in me, mentored and guided me.
WHO IS ON THE GUEST LIST FOR YOUR IDEAL DINNER PARTY, PRESENT OR PASSED?
I was blessed with an exceptionally high IQ and almost became a theoretical mathematician, so I would pick Einstein. Of course, I would want Lauren with me, she knew my love of math and science and would enjoy being part of such a dinner party. In fact, Lauren lovingly called me Sheldon, after the character in the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Taking Einstein’s theory a step further, I developed a unified theory (yet to be published) that could scientifically explain a number of life’s mysteries. I would love to talk with him and hear his opinions, and Lauren would enjoy meeting him too.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR OUR READERS?
Find out as early as you can what you truly enjoy in life and then find a way to be involved in it, whether part-time or full-time, even if you could make more money doing something else. Spend time with friends and family. Have fun. Be kind. Above all, be an optimist and pursue your dreams. By being an optimist, even if you don’t succeed, you will have enjoyed the journey.