Just four months ago, Gregory Zairis survived his second liver transplant.
Wednesday, he and fiancee Laurie Lovett drowned in the Gulf of Mexico while visiting Panama City Beach, Fla.
"He loved the beach," said one of his two daughters, Melanie Zairis, Thursday afternoon. She lives in Atlanta and got the shocking news while on a business trip to New York.
"I never heard a bad word said about him," she said of her father, a graduate of Columbus State University who worked at the school from 1985 to 2000.
That was confirmed by Eddie Woodhouse, the assistant vice president for facilities at CSU and a former co-worker.
"He was an electrician when I came here," Woodhouse said. "He was a very knowledgable man and a guy that everybody on campus liked. He was very popular. We kept in touch for a few years but we haven't spoken in the last couple. I'm really sorry to hear he's gone."
The graveside service for Zairis, 53, a former member at Epworth United Methodist Church in Columbus, will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus.
Maj. David Humphreys of the Panama City Beach Police Department told reporter S. Brady Calhoun from the News Herald in Panama City that both swimmers ignored double red flags and a verbal warning when they ventured into the Gulf of Mexico. Double red flags indicate all swimmers must stay out of the water.
Humphreys told the newspaper that rip currents quickly pulled the victims away from land and they drowned before rescuers could bring them back to shore.
The incident occurred in the gulf near the western intersection of Hutchinson Boulevard and Front Beach Road shortly before noon. There were large waves and swirling currents.
It was a busy day for the Panama City police, as beach officers responded to six calls and assisted more than 15 people in distress, Humphreys said.
Zairis, a native of Sacramento, Calif., also worked for Kennesaw State University and The University of Georgia in Griffin, Ga., after leaving Columbus but because of his health was not currently working. Lovett, 43, was a tax assessor in Cherokee County, Ga. The couple, together for about three years, lived in Jasper, Ga.
His former wife, Linda Zairis, still lives in Columbus. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to Kate's Club (www.katesclub.org), an organization that empowers children facing life after the death of a parent. Melanie Zairis, a Pacelli graduate, is a former Director of the Board.