Fond Farewells: A Tribute to Bonnie Cardone

In this issue of California Diving News, we say farewell to one of our own, CDN’s  longtime contributing editor Bonnie Cardone. When news of Bonnie’s death circulated through the scuba diving industry, many of Bonnie’s longtime friends, colleagues and dive buddies shared notes and remembrances telling of her influence on their lives. We’re pleased to share them with you here, as a testimonial to Bonnie’s lasting contribution to our sport.

Eric Hanauer: Author/underwater photographer/videographer

In the early 1960s I was the swimming coach at Morgan Park High School in Chicago. A young freshman, Dan Rittschof, tried out for the team. I told him, “You’re too small and slow to be a swimmer. We’ll make you a springboard diver.” In about three weeks I taught him all I knew about springboard diving, which wasn’t much. He took it from there, and became the city champion.

Fast forward about 15 years. I had given a presentation at University of California Riverside when a bearded man walked up and introduced himself. It was Dan, now Doctor Dan, with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He told me that his sister, Bonnie Cardone, had just been hired as editor of Skin Diver Magazine. I just happened to have an article idea. My friends had found a World War II Corsair fighter plane in the waters off Laguna Beach, California. I pitched the idea to Bonnie, she bought it, and my first effort resulted in a feature article.

Additional assignments followed, and pretty soon I was a regular contributor.

Bonnie was a mentor to me and many other fledgling writers of that era, including Stephen Frink, Howard Hall, Marty Snyderman, Michael Lawrence, Rick Frehsee, Walt Stearns, and others. It’s not like she gave writing seminars, but seeing which ideas she accepted or rejected, and noting her editorial changes, made all of us better writers.

Bonnie was an avid diver, both in local waters and abroad. On two occasions, she had serious decompression illness resulting in lengthy chamber treatments. Most people would have quit, but Bonnie continued to dive, staying above 60 feet and doing extended safety stops.

For 22 years, Bonnie served as the editor of Skin Diver. That’s longer than most diving magazines existed. She said, “During my tenure we got away from babes in bikinis and that was partly my influence. I remember good things and bad things, although I wouldn’t have changed that job for anything in the world.”

Stephen Frink: Publisher, Alert Diver magazine

Bonnie Cardone entered my life at a pivotal moment. My first involvement with dive photojournalism was as a contributor to an earlier competitor of Skin Diver. I had recently opened my photo studio in Key Largo and my main gig was processing E-6 slide film and renting underwater cameras to the tourists diving Pennekamp Park and the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. I was also getting pretty steady assignments from Sport Diver. They were sending me on the road and allowing me to write a column on underwater photography, which at the time was a pretty fast track for a kid pretty new to underwater photography.

I can’t say Skin Diver was “the enemy” at that time but let’s just say the two magazines were competing entities. I was loyal to my publication, and no doubt, Bonnie was loyal to hers. Sport Diver was eventually purchased by Ziff Davis Publishing, and the company killed the title. Just like that my one and only media outlet was gone.

After a day of wondering whether my life would be darkrooms and rental cameras I worked up the courage to cold-call Bonnie at the Skin Diver editorial offices in Los Angeles. To my surprise, Bonnie took the call. She was very gracious and supportive. That conversation started my 17-year run as a photojournalist for Skin Diver, my beat being the Florida Keys and Caribbean.

As an editor, Bonnie made me a better writer. This was at a time when I truly hated writing but knew it was the only way to get my photos published. She taught me about deadlines and word counts and shooting verticals if I ever wanted one of my photos on the cover. If she hadn’t picked up the phone that day my life would have been significantly different. I doubt it would involve underwater photography without her influence.

Howard Hall: Cinematographer, Howard Hall Productions

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, I wrote a series of equipment reviews for Skin Diver Magazine. Bonnie was the senior editor for Skin Diver at that time. Not surprisingly, the equipment I was asked to review was always an item made by a manufacturer that was advertising in the magazine. Also, not surprisingly, I was not permitted to say anything negative about the item. Sometimes, when the equipment was really terrible, this policy resulted in humorous exchanges between Bonnie and me. To appease my conscience, I would create a scathing description of the item’s deficiencies and then I would highlight that paragraph in red so Bonnie would know I expected it to be deleted before publication.

I tested all the gear I wrote about and I specifically remember reviewing the Dacor TX 1000 fin. This was a huge fin with both a foot pocket and a heel strap. It was as stiff as a board. In the article I regurgitated all the features and benefits listed on the box. Then added, in red: “But if you find yourself outside the surf wearing these fins you must remove one and use it as a belly board in order to return to the beach because it is simply impossible to kick with a pair of TX 1000s strapped to your feet.” I remember Bonnie calling me and our laughing about it on the phone. We laughed and laughed. She had the most melodious laugh. Forty years later, I still remember that conversation and Bonnie’s laughter.

Michele Hall: Director/Producer, Howard Hall Productions

“It’s been 12 years since Bonnie and I last shared ocean-time. Now, during this last week of August 2013, we’re finally at sea together again, once again sharing our long-time passion for California diving, swimming through kelp forests, marveling at the beauty of brittle star gardens, and more. We’re long-time friends coming together on the ocean… now more as equals than as it was in the early days of mentor and student. Some days it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

That’s my journal entry from August 30, 2013. The last day Bonnie and I went diving together. I saw Bonnie again after that at dive shows, and we spoke on the telephone often. But after knowing Bonnie for more than four decades, it’s this memory of our dives together that I cherish most.   

I give thanks to Bonnie for enriching my life with her laughter, encouragement, grace, fortitude, and loyalty… but most of all for entrusting me with her friendship. 

Marty Snyderman: CDN Senior Editor

Bonnie Cardone was my first editor when I started writing for Skin Diver in the late 1970s, and I could not have caught a luckier break. I think of myself as “one of Bonnie’s writing children,” as there is no doubt that Bonnie mentored and raised a generation of writers and photographers that worked in the scuba industry. Bonnie was always positive and warm. Always. She encouraged, corrected, helped, listened, taught, and cajoled, and in the end made me better at my craft. I bet her other “Skin Diver children” feel the same way.

Bonnie was as reluctant to take center stage as she was quick to put others in the spotlight. That was true while she was at Skin Diver and in the years that followed. Bonnie and I worked with Jack McKenney on a film he was producing about sharks and shark diving in the early 1980s. Bonnie helped with the editing and writing, and as was typical, with Jack’s approval, went out of her way to shine a little light on me as an on-camera talent. When you are trying to gain recognition in a profession, you don’t forget support like that.

Years later Bonnie nominated me for my NOGI award in the Arts. I later learned that she had nominated at least three other NOGI recipients that were among her writing children. Maybe more. In many respects our recognition speaks to Bonnie’s mentoring skills and her desire to help others. That is a wonderful legacy. If you were lucky enough to know her, it’s likely you’ll always remember her unique, infectious laugh. Rest in Peace, Bonnie Cardone. You are missed.

Carolyn Pascal: Former Associate Publisher, Skin Diver Magazine

I was in the Madison Avenue, New York office of Petersen Publishing’s Skin Diver Magazine while Bonnie was in the Wilshire Blvd office in Los Angeles. I never dove or traveled with Bonnie. My memories of Bonnie primarily revolve around our time spent exchanging ideas using a good old-fashioned land-line telephone. My team of young marketing geniuses (in our own minds) came to Bonnie on a daily basis with our groundbreaking editorial ideas and special requests. Of course, it was always on deadline and you would think our very life depended on her good natured support. What I remember most about Bonnie was how she kept her cool. She listened respectfully and she responded calmly, no matter what we sounded like on the other end of the line. She held things together and got the job done. We could count on Bonnie. She had integrity. Her word meant something, and boy do I appreciate that today more than I ever did back then. Bonnie was the real deal. I don’t know that she ever realized how much we depended on her being there, quietly steering our wild and crazy ship away from the icebergs we never saw coming. Bonnie, I hope you knew what we rarely expressed: We could never have done it without you!

Zale Parry: Pioneering scuba diver, underwater photographer and actress

Bonnie Cardone was the backbone of Skin Diver Magazine. Her personality was strong, sensible and sincere, especially in her writing. And her friendship. She was a diving pioneer, adventurous and fun. I enjoyed our dives together, the last one through the kelp forest off Catalina’s Casino Point on a bright, sunny day several years ago. 

Bonnie sparkled when she told a story. We didn’t see each other much after she moved from Santa Maria to Huntington, but it was always nice when we chatted by phone — her sparkle came through in her voice. I will cherish my memories of Bonnie and I’m thankful for her friendship and her many contributions to the diving world.

Leslie Leaney: Founder/Publisher, The Journal of Diving History, Executive Director, The International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame

I met Bonnie through my relationship with legendary Master Diver E.R. Cross, who wrote the Technifacts column in Skin Diver Magazine, the longest running magazine column in history. To me, and many, many, others, E.R. was diving’s God. And Bonnie was God’s editor. E.R. called her “Boss.” Thus, the foundation of my relationship with Bonnie was set. 

E.R. had mentored and supported me through the establishing of the Historical Diving Society USA (HDS), an undertaking he knew, and I quickly learnt, was not for the faint of heart. Bonnie attended the inaugural meeting in October 1992, with Nick Icorn, and both became founding members. 

To hold the fledgling organization’s membership together I founded Historical Diver magazine, and E.R. volunteered to write for it. We agreed that one of the weaknesses in the regular diving print media of the time (1992-3) was that women were under-represented, and agreed that a column focused on women in diving history might make a distinct impression. Bonnie would be the natural choice to write the column, and I was thrilled when she agreed to do it.

The Women Pioneers in Diving column drew Bonnie closer to the administration of the HDS and she became the first woman diver to join the Board of Directors. Possibly the highlight of her term was presenting Hans and Lotte Hass with the HDS Diving Pioneer Award in Orlando in 1997. Hans had a strong personal friendship with Paul Tzimoulis and Jack McKenney of Skin Diver, and knew exactly who Bonnie was. It was a historic night.

Bonnie was a pleasure to work with, and exuded a professionalism that I appreciated. In my almost three decades with the HDS, I never worked with, or for, a better, or more dependable Director than Bonnie. 

Our friendship endured beyond her term as a Director. Bonnie was as true a friend to me as she was a loyal professional to the teams she worked with. Integrity and ethics were her standards, and anyone who worked with her was better for the experience. She was always a friend and always inspiration. Like to many others, she made me a better person, and I will never forget her. My always-true historical friend.

Dale Sheckler: Founder, California Diving News and Scuba Show

I recall early in our California Diving News and Scuba Show business she requested that I come and speak at the Santa Monica Blue Fins, a quite prominent dive club at that time. She was a key member and sat in the front row. While I was deeply honored to be asked to speak I was very nervous to be giving a presentation to somebody I held in such high regard. She was a true asset to the diving community and her passing is a big loss. She will be deeply missed.

Cathryn Castle Garcia: CDN managing editor

Bonnie Cardone was my hero. Although she was known as someone who was very approachable and easy to talk to, when I first met her in 2001 I was too “star struck” to start a conversation. We’d see each other at scuba industry events from time to time and exchange hellos, but it wasn’t until I joined the editorial staff of California Diving News that I actually worked up the courage to really talk to her. When we first spoke on the phone, I confessed that I’d been a fan of hers for years and that I was deeply honored to be editing her work. She thought that was hilarious. Others have mentioned her unique laugh. This was the first time I’d heard it – and I will remember it until forever. 

Editors have a saying, “Everybody needs editing.” Except Bonnie didn’t need editing, not really. Her writing is smooth and conversational, and a pleasure to read. All I’d usually do is fix a typo or correct a spacing error. She made my job easy. And she befriended me with ease, too.

Bonnie Cardone is my hero. And my friend. 

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