TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Brett Hemphill, an experienced cave diver from Dade City is being remembered by his friends and family.
He was extraordinarily experienced, even as far as cave divers go, being one of the most well-known divers around the world. WFLA’s Amanda Holly has interviewed Brett several times about his exploration at Weeki Wachee Springs. Amanda, a fellow cave diver, sat down with Hemphill’s friends and family members.
Everyone she spoke to, and even posts on social media, say the same thing: Hemphill was many things. An amazing dad, an incredible singer and artist.
Hemphill will also be remembered for his incredible passion for exploration, mapping and documentation of caves for Karst Underwater Research. Brett believed that is people saw what was under their feet, they would feel the need to protect it.
Garrett Hemphill is one of Brett’s four kids who he raised with his wife Cheryl. He told Amanda that Brett, “has surveyed more underground than people have taken steps on the moon.”
His daughter Chase described him as “revolutionary” when it came to cave diving and exploration.
“He had this encyclopedia of knowledge of caves in Florida that was not available anywhere else. It wasn’t written down, it was all in his head,” said KUR Director Andy Pitkin.
Friend and fellow KUR Director Matt Vinzant said he was never satisfied with the exploration.
“You couldn’t stop him, he was always looking for the next frontier. Once he found something new, he was excited for everyone to know about it, which is unusual for exploratory cave divers. “Brett couldn’t keep a secret, he’d share the lead he had with everybody hoping that somebody would go find it because somebody needed to” Vinzant said.
“Much of his knowledge will live on in his legacy, and so much of the water underneath our feet is no longer a mystery, thanks to Brett.
His enthusiasm and passion will be hard to replace. We wouldn’t have the extensive knowledge and documentation that we do without it, but he helped foster new explorers. Pitkin told Holly, “He brought on a whole new generation of cave explorers that maybe would have never gotten into in that way that they have without him.”
Brett didn’t have a fear of being deep underwater but didn’t mind being above it either. He was a high rise building maintainer in Tampa for 30 years. Garrett Hemphill said “there’s not a lot of pieces of glass that he hasn’t touched in Tampa.”
The Hemphill family said that although he was busy with his day job and cave diving on the weekends, he never missed anything, as though he had the ability to be in two places at once.
“He took a lot of pride in his work. It’s always hard as an explorer to balance life with it, but I think Brett did a pretty good job,” Matt Vinzant said.
“He was heavily involved with everything we did and heavily influential to us not being cooped up at home or sucked into our phones. Adventuring was something he took us out to do all the time,” Garrett added.
Brett was also an artist and had an incredible passion for singing and playing instruments that he passed on to his children. He was in a band for many years and loved karaoke.
Vinzant described him as “an instant friend” and “after a little bit of time, you can’t remember a time without Brett.”
Pitkin said, “It’s a huge loss to everybody. He’s my best dive buddy and it’s going to be tough” without him. He always wanted to showcase the beauty of these systems to bring awareness to them. Brett thought allowing people to see that “the river continues” and how beautiful it was, people would be inclined to protect it.“
Although Brett’s enthusiasm will be hard to match, his family wants the exploration to continue.
“He’s not a story of how dangerous things are, the credit to his name should how much there is. I don’t want people to use this as an excuse to stop, it should be a reason to keep going,” said Garrett.
The Hemphill’s have a GoFundMe page set up for expenses. Brett will be missed, but his legacy will live on through the cave diving community, his friends and of course his family.