Remembering Oceaneering Co-Founder Johnny Johnson

(Image credit: Oceaneering)

John T. “Johnny” Johnson, one of the original Co-Founders of Oceaneering International, Inc., passed away on June 27, 2024. He was 86. Johnson co-founded World Wide Divers with Mike Hughes in 1964, which merged with industry players Can Dive and Cal Dive in 1969 to become Oceaneering International.

Johnson, who retired from Oceaneering in 2004, made several important contributions to the company, first as a diver and later as a senior vice president. Johnson and Oceaneering would search for innovative, safer solutions to allow the oil and gas industry to push into deeper water depths.

One of the largest acquisitions in the company’s early days was Divcon, a leading provider of diving solutions, in 1971. Of the acquisition, Johnson famously said Oceaneering acquiring Divcon, a company that was five times larger than Oceaneering at the time, was “a classic case of the minnow swallowing the whale.”

The company would continue to grow. Hughes tasked Johnson with following the development of a brand-new technology in the late 1970s called remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Johnson would go on to write a famous memo saying, “This is an important development that we need to keep an eye on.” It did not take long for ROVs to become a major factor in the business. Oceaneering would become one of the largest owners and manufacturers of ROVs in the world.

With its diving and ROV expertise, Oceaneering would undertake several high-profile recovery projects, including dives into the wrecks of the Titanic, the Lusitania, and the Liberty Bell 7 Space Capsule. Oceaneering would also expand past offshore oil and gas into aerospace, defense, entertainment, manufacturing, and other industries.

Johnson was a graduate of the Baylor Military School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and told his alma mater’s alumni publication that his journey to becoming a diver started during a summer job as a lifeguard in his hometown of Alcoa, Tennessee. He went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee, joining the US Army, where he served his country in Korea. After his service concluded, Johnson left Tennessee for Louisiana with the goal of working as a diver for the offshore oil and gas industry.

Of Johnson’s passing, Hughes said: “If I had to choose one person to occupy a foxhole with me and defend it in battle, it would be Johnny Johnson.”

Kevin McEvoy, Oceaneering’s Chairman of the Board and longtime employee, said: “Johnny was a consummate gentleman and very visible ambassador for the company throughout the Gulf Coast region, where he led the company’s business development and sales efforts for many years.”

Rod Larson, President and CEO of Oceaneering, said: “As a co-founder of World Wide Divers, Johnny’s contributions to the diving profession, the oil and gas industry, and Oceaneering cannot be overstated. His legacy and influence within the diving and ROV communities are a testament to his professionalism. Those who knew him best will remember him for his kindness, wisdom, and willingness to mentor others.”

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