In Memoriam: Ralph M. Hollis


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree Ralph M. Hollis on March 15, in Melbourne, Fl.  He was 80.

Ralph was born on May 14, 1932, in Waltham, Massachusetts.  He spent his younger years playing in and around the Charles River. It was here that his love of water developed. His life’s adventures began after high school, when he joined the US Air Force. One of the first places he was stationed was a small Air Force base in Etain, France. It was there where he met a lovely French girl who was working as a cashier on the base. Madeleine Zanarotti lived in the nearby village of Mars-La-Tour, and Ralph was convinced she was “the one.” He courted her until the church bells in Mars-La-Tour rang out celebrating their marriage on April 14, 1959.

Madeleine and Ralph’s family began shortly thereafter with the birth of their first son, John, in Bitburg, Germany. The family traveled the world following orders as they were assigned to various locations for the Air Force. They lived in Villa Tasso, Florida; Kadena, Okinawa; Alamogordo, New Mexico, and then back to Germany. It was in Germany, in the same hospital in Bitburg, that their second son, Edward, was born. Shortly thereafter, Ralph decided to retire from the Air Force and remain in Germany. Ralph retired as a Technical Sergeant from the US Air Force after 20 years of distinguished service.

While searching for his next adventure; he worked as a bartender at the NCO club at Spangdaliem AFB, earning the moniker “Rotten Ralph” due to his quick humor and sharp wit. He yearned to return to the United States, and after a year the family moved to Sandwich, Massachusetts, to the small hamlet of Forestdale. Ralph tried his hand at real estate, but was soon lured away by the call of the sea, or at least by a call from WHOI.

Ralph began his career at WHOI in 1975 as a research assistant in the Electronics Group. He spent considerable time at sea, in which his family did not see him for months at a time. In 1977, Ralph saw an opportunity to train and certify as a pilot for the deep submergence vehicle Alvin, and took it. Ralph’s notoriety started slowly, but soon took off when he was part of the discovery of the tubeworms that exist at a depth of 9000 feet, living in the areas around the hydrothermal vents on the ocean bottom, near the Galapagos Islands. It was in this part of the world, near the vents that Ralph managed to capture an elusive species of fish that had been seen, but never been caught before, the Bythites hollisi, which was named in his honor. Not a man willing to rest on his laurels, within a few short years in 1979, he was promoted to chief pilot and expedition leader of the Alvin group. As providence would have it, this placed him in a perfect position to be involved with the challenge of the second cruise to the Titanic in 1986 using Alvin. Ralph piloted the Alvin, which carried himself, Bob Ballard, and Dudley Foster - the first people to see the Titanic since it had sunk below the ice cold waves of the Atlantic on April 15, 1912. In 1988, with hundreds of dives under his belt, he was the pilot that took the Alvin on its 2000th dive. In 1989, Ralph retired from WHOI with 14 years of positive impact to the oceanographic research community.

With his second career completed, he and Madeleine moved from Massachusetts to Satellite Beach, Florida. Continuing with his love of the water, he occupied his time boating and volunteering 17 years for the Marine Resources Council in monitoring and promoting water quality of the Indian River Lagoon.

His family includes his wife of 53 years, Madeleine E. Hollis of Melbourne, FL; son, John Mario Hollis and his wife, D’Arcy (Trowsse) of Ramona, CA; son, Edward Charles Hollis and his fiancée, Tammy Werner of Melbourne, FL; his grandchildren, Corey Hollis and Kelsey Hollis; his sister, Marge Rohner of Waterford, CT, and many dearly loved nieces and nephews.

A service to celebrate and honor his life will be held at 11:00 a.m., on Friday, March 22, at Ammen Family Cremation and Funeral Care, 1001 Hickory Street, Melbourne, FL, 32901.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate a donation in his memory be made to the Marine Resources Council, 3275 Dixie Highway NE, Palm Bay, FL, 32905 or at

Some information for this obituary was taken from the Ammen Family Cremation & Funeral Care Website.



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