Published Friday, September 17, 1999, in the Miami Herald

A living eulogy: Dying diver basks in Web site tributes

-By JOAN FLEISCHMAN, Herald Staff Writer

Alan Baskin, Sage of the Sea, is dying of pancreatic cancer in a rental apartment on South Beach. And his eulogy is on the Web.

Among the cyber-mourners: daughter Roberta, a CBS News correspondent; retired CBS anchor Walter Cronkite; and author George Plimpton.

''Most people, they have a funeral and the guy is in the box,'' says Baskin, 70. ''Everybody is saying all those wonderful things, and he can't hear 'em because he's dead. I'm here -- alive -- hearing the whole thing.''

Not for long. In late August, doctors gave him a few weeks to live. ''I'm going to pack off to the next world.''

Baskin, a famous scuba diver, founded a dive resort operation in the Caribbean 30 years ago and has made more than 13,000 dives. He lived in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, and flew to Miami in July for what he thought was a back problem.

Doctors found the cancer. It had spread to his liver and lungs. Baskin opted to forgo treatment and rented the apartment.

''I've got a hospital bed, oxygen -- all the things that pertain to leaving this life.'' Morphine controls the pain.

Nick Griffin, 48, of Towson, Md., a longtime friend in the advertising business, created the Web site -- The site is now some 57 pages with more than 100 messages and photos.

Baskin's daughter, Roberta, 47, a TV correspondent, grew up thinking her dad was dead and that she was an only child. ''My mother told me he died before I was born. She said he was in the Royal Air Force and keeled over from an aneurysm in a London movie theater.''

But on Mother's Day years ago, her mother, the late Suzanne Pallister, confessed that it was a tall tale. Her father, she told her, had grown up in Miami and they had met at a community theater group. She got pregnant and they planned to marry, but she miscarried.

They broke up weeks later, and he went off to the Air Force during the Korean War. That's when Suzanne discovered she was still pregnant; she had miscarried a twin. The surviving baby was Roberta.

Over the next decade, Roberta, an investigative reporter, checked out her father's Social Security number, and an old driver's license with a Miramar address, but didn't find him and stopped looking. ''I thought he was drug runner.''

But in 1986, when she got engaged to Jim Trengrove, a producer with The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, she figured it was time to try harder. With help from a U.S. immigration agent, she tracked him down -- in Tortola. She phoned him on Oct. 3, 1986. ''Hardest call I ever made in my life. I was so scared.''

'A magical world'

In their first chat, she learned she had two half brothers and two half sisters, and that her paternal grandparents were alive. She flew to Tortola and met her father and his longtime companion, Eva, 56, now his wife. They taught her to scuba dive. ''A magical world he opened up for me,'' Roberta says.

It was through his dive shop, Baskin in The Sun, that her father met Cronkite, a sailor. In his living eulogy, Cronkite writes: ''Your disdain for self-pity and your zest for the great adventure ahead perhaps have played a greater part in all of our lives than you shall ever know. You have given us an example to live -- and to die -- by... Farewell, good friend.''

Joel Brinkley, a New York Times reporter and son of TV anchor David Brinkley, writes: ''Your freedom of thinking, your unfettered spirituality, were a tonic, a warm salve... I follow what's happening to you with the greatest sadness, of course. But also with hope. Hope that when I reach the place you are now, I can greet it with the same spirit, joy and matchless equanimity.''

There are messages from old girlfriends: ''You were my first love.'' It was signed, ''Pat.''

And from a radio marine operator: ''You set the standards for the dive industry.''

From Plimpton: ''Have fun. Everyone in the deep you know so well is wishing you the best, narwhals, porcupine fish, octopi, morays, et alia. And the undersigned.''

Tom Doerr, former news director of WPLG-Channel 10, who was Roberta's boss at WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., when she found her father: ''You turned out to be much more than that funny guy in the dive magazines and the savior of the reefs. . . . You are a living example of what we all should be . . . loving, all embracing, open, fun and full of life.''

'No loose ends'

Dying isn't so terrible, Baskin says. ''I've done everything I've ever wanted to do. There are no loose ends.'' He is spending his last days consoling his friends. ''I'm calling them and cheering them up.''

Then there was a message from a grandson, Oliver Kreinberg, age 9. ''I hope you feel better and I love you.''

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