Honoring John Ogden


An Ocean Hero, A Mentor to so Many, A Friend to All

Posted in partnership with the USF College of Marine Science

We are sad about the passing of Dr. John Ogden.  He died peacefully on Monday, June 25, 2023. Please read more about this great human being and his tremendous legacy as described in the obituary shared by his loving family.  We also share below comments from three local leaders whose respect for John runs as deep as John’s impact on this planet and its people.  Rest in peace, John.  We will miss you.

John Conrad Ogden, 82, of St. Petersburg, FL

A variety of medical complications from an elective hip replacement surgery, led to his tragic and untimely death, thus ending his beautiful life. 

His family surrounded him in his last week, and last days on the planet. Though he was unresponsive in his last few days, we sang to him, caressed him, and played his favorite songs. We recalled stories, shared gratitudes, read him messages from friends/family, and amply told him that we loved him. Before we said our last words and goodbyes for the night, his wife Nancy, son Eric, daughter Lisa and her partner Jake, played and sang Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ to him, together arm and arm in embrace. After being surrounded by loving family the whole day, John passed peacefully away in hospice care less than two hours later, on Monday, June 25, 2023. 

Born in Chatham, New Jersey in 1940 to Lydia Cecilia Julstedt and John Wilson Ogden, John had a challenging childhood, with alcoholic parents and a relatively absent father. There in New Jersey, he found inspiration and solace in the Great Swamp which led to a biology degree from Princeton in 1962, and followed by a PhD from Stanford under the famous Population Bomb author, Paul R. Ehrlich in 1968. In 1967, he met Nancy while they were both at Stanford, and after two years, they married and headed to Panama for a post doc with Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. They lived and studied parrotfish in the San Blas Islands and eventually ended up at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s new, West Indies Laboratory on St. Croix in 1971. He was the resident marine biologist and eventually became the Director of WIL. He was also Program Director of the NOAA Saturation Diving Facility HYDROLAB for 5 years and became an aquanaut and spent a week underwater with Nancy and 2 others on a parrotfish project. He loved sailing and sailboat racing, and he was very close to his sister Rita. His children, Eric and Lisa, were born and raised on St. Croix. Over the course of time, he and his family were there for 17 years. We were fortunate to have left St. Croix in 1988 as hurricane Hugo closed WIL in 1989. 

He was an early leader in the developing field of behavioral ecology. He initiated a Caribbean-wide seagrass study (SES) plus CARICOMP (Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity) which engaged in comparative studies throughout the greater Caribbean. He published over 70 papers, contributed to numerous books and produced several television programs about tropical ecosystems. A sabbatical in 1978 generated papers from Palau, Eniwetok and Hawaii, and he had a 6-month stint as Program Associate at NSF in 1986. As FDU cut funds for the Lab on St. Croix, he and his family moved to St. Petersburg, FL where he became the director of Florida Institute of Oceanography. There, in partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute, he added the Keys Marine Lab to FIO facilities. The KML is used by researchers and educators concerned with Florida Keys ecosystems. John worked hard on the creation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (established in 1990). Colleagues in Newcastle, England invited him to be the external examiner from 1994 to 1996. He helped form the International Society for Reef Studies and was the most active president.

He has worked on policy and research relating to the conservation of tropical ecosystems with NSFNOAAU.S. Dept. of State, the World BankUNESCO, WWF and private foundations. He started doing Audubon Christmas bird counts in 1954 and was still doing them after retiring. In his later years after retirement, and up until his death, he was a mentor for adult men re-entering society after prison time and for those recovering from substance abuse/addiction. He also selflessly and successfully nominated many colleagues and students for awards and accolades, while never seeking them himself. He was a mentor and friend to countless students and colleagues – giving many of them the opportunity to be leaders in marine science, all over the world. 

We will deeply miss this Great Patriarch and beloved Leader of our family, more than words can ever say. His legacy shines bright in his family and in the lives he touched, and will live on forever. He will be sorely missed by his friends and family. John is survived by his beloved wife of 54 years, Nancy Ogden, His daughter Lisa Ogden and her partner Jake Mangiofico, His son Eric Ogden- Eric’s wife Lara and son Kai, and his Sister Rita and her family.

Suggested donations: Suncoast HospiceWUSFWEDUOcean ConservancyPrairie Creek Conservation Cemetery or USF Foundation for preserving data from tropical marine scientists.


“John Ogden was a remarkable individual who was dedicated to the success of FIO and left an indelible impact on our organization. His tenure as the director of FIO was characterized by unwavering dedication, visionary leadership, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. John was a compassionate individual who nurtured and mentored countless colleagues, fostering an environment of support and growth. As we grieve the loss of an exceptional leader, we also celebrate the life and legacy of John Ogden. Let us remember him as the visionary who shaped our organization, the mentor who guided us, and the friend who impacted us.”

Monty Graham, Director, Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO)

“John spent a large part of his professional career on our campus, serving as Director of FIO for more than 20 years. His reach, however, extended well beyond the halls of MSL.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known John. As an aspiring young scientist, I benefitted greatly from his knowledge, insight and advice.  I have little doubt that he touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of marine scientists around the globe. He was special that way! Unselfish, friendly and fatherly.  I’m hopeful that we will forever be inspired by his many contributions and desire to advance our understanding of the natural world around us.”

Tom Frazer, Dean, USF College of Marine Science

“John was an accomplished scientist and a vigorous proponent of collaborative marine research. His work with the Florida Institute of Oceanography was groundbreaking in its collaborative scope and scale and I had the honor of working with John and his staff to make the Keys Marine Laboratory a world-class destination for scientific research in the Keys. He will be dearly missed, but his substantial legacy is reflected in the collaborative spirit that characterizes much of the marine research conducted in Florida today.”

Gil McRae, Director, FWRI

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