Downtime: Holly Eve’s drive to dive

Holly Eve on one of her hundreds of dives. (Photos courtesy Holly Eve)

When she’s not dealing in real estate for the commonwealth of Virginia, Holly Law Eve takes a break from land – literally.

The longtime director of the state Division of Real Estate Services, recently renamed the Division of Real Estate and Facilities Management, spends much of her free time off land and in the water, exploring the depths of the ocean as a scuba diver and instructor.

“I’ve always been a water rat – boats, jet skis, going to the beach – and I’d always been intrigued by diving or seeing what’s underneath the sea,” Eve said. “Being around water is definitely my happy place.”

The Waynesboro native has the ocean in her blood – “I tease that saltwater’s in my veins,” Eve said – as both of her grandfathers worked on tugboats: one an ocean-going tugboat captain, the other a harbor tug engineer.

Her most treasured dive was when she got to see and touch the wreckage of her grandfather’s oceangoing tug, the Mars, which sank in Cape Cod Bay in 1942 after colliding with a tanker in the dark. (Her grandfather survived; there were no confirmed casualties.) Another diver she was with retrieved a glass cup and medicine bottle from the wreckage and gave them to Eve on their ascent to the surface.

Eve with the glass cup and medicine bottle retrieved from the wreckage of her grandfather’s tugboat.

“So I got to come out of the water with the glass, and I got to give it to my dad,” Eve said.

“The dive itself, from the visibility and the experience – not that great. It was more of saying I got to touch it,” she said. “When I got back on the back of the boat, I got to call my dad and I said, ‘Hey, I just touched the Mars!’ The last time he was on it, he was 12 years old. That was definitely a special treat.”

When Eve was pursuing her master’s degree in real estate valuation at VCU, the Virginia Tech grad was looking to fill her summer schedule. A friend pointed her to the now-closed Scuba Center in western Henrico, in the former Pizza Hut building that now houses Alpha Dog Club.

“Right when I finished the certification, the folks in the shop needed someone to help out behind the counter doing retail. I said, ‘OK, I’ll help do that,’” Eve said. “Then they said they needed someone to help teach swimming lessons. Then it was, ‘Why don’t you get divemaster and help out with scuba classes?’ ‘OK.’ ‘Why don’t you go ahead and become an instructor?’ ‘OK.’

“Being single, it was an opportunity to travel to fun places with a group of people,” she said. “And the teaching was a great deal of fun, because I love showing and sharing and just watching people when they have that experience for the first time. It can be very challenging to some individuals, whether fear factor, claustrophobic, personal challenges. It was always fun to get them over that hurdle to enjoy it.”

Eve’s travels have taken her to Bonaire Island in the Caribbean, Saint Croix, the Galapagos Islands, and the Gulf of California.

One of Eve’s first students in adaptive scuba diving, involving divers with disabilities, was a former Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, Eve said.

“She’s a paraplegic, so getting to go through training and taking on our first dive trip, and I’ve worked with an amputee – it’s awesome to be around folks who get to experience that freedom again,” she said.

Eve’s dives have taken her to Bonaire Island in the Caribbean, where she’s going again in late October. This summer, she dove for the first time off Saint Croix.

She’s swum with whale sharks in the Galapagos and seen the Jacques Cousteau-named “Aquarium of the World” in the Sea of Cortez, aka the Gulf of California. But her favorite sea sight?

“Humpbacks swimming overhead,” Eve said, “because you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, is that what I think it is? Are you kidding me?’”

Eve said diving and teaching scuba have helped in her day job, in which she oversees the state government’s real estate, facilities and parking needs, and negotiates leases and acquisitions. Her recent title change to director of real estate and facilities management coincided with her reaching 10 years in the job, following 20-plus years in corporate and commercial real estate finance.

Diving and teaching scuba have helped Eve in her day job as the state’s director of real estate and facilities management. (Jonathan Spiers)

“I always think real estate negotiation is really a people business. We talk about bricks and mortar, but to get anything accomplished, it has to be exchanged by individuals,” she said. “That helped in diving, and diving has helped in real estate, just reading people on the boat and watching behaviors, and trying to best interact with an individual.

“Obviously, I talk with my hands – water signals,” she said, laughing. “It also is my perfect way of meditation. It completely pulls you away: You have to focus on your breathing, you’re distracted by things, you’re weightless floating – it’s a whole sensory experience.”

Before her current job, under the Virginia Department of General Services, Eve served a similar role with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – a job she was drawn to by her love, and the lure, of the water.

“A standard government job in real estate would not have been the same ‘hook’ – ha ha – than it was to go to Game and Fish,” Eve said. “Just appreciating what they do, growing up in Waynesboro being very familiar with that, it was intriguing to me to be able to buy and sell property that protected wildlife and natural areas.”

Eve has made a total of 900 dives. She’s aiming to reach 1,000 next year. (Courtesy of Holly Eve)

With Scuba Center closed, Eve said she usually frequents The Dive Shop on West Broad Street, and she’s in her second year as president of the Richmond Dive Club, which she encourages anyone interested in scuba to join.

Eve compared scuba to golf in terms of expense and time commitment, and she likens learning to dive to learning how to drive.

“You can kind of make the sport what you want it to be,” she said. “Many times people see it as intimidating, with all the equipment and the visual that you see.

“Think about the first time you got behind the wheel and you were thinking about the environment, looking around and controls and all those aspects, and now how you drive without even thinking. It’s intuitive. It’s a very similar experience in learning to dive,” she said. “Your environmental conditions could change and your equipment could be a little different, but you have that same familiarity to it.”

In all, Eve said she’s made 900 dives, logging her 900th on her latest trip.

“It’s not about the numbers, but when you’re that close to 1,000, you’ve got to get to that number,” Eve said. “It would be kind of fun to push it over the edge. That’s my 2019 goal.”

This is the latest entry in our Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has an exciting or unique way of passing time off the clock, drop us a line at [email protected]. For previous installments of Downtime, click here.

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Sarah Jarvis

Great to see you continuing your love of diving Holly! You inspired me to get my certification 13 years ago and you were a patient instructor. Good luck reaching your goal of 1000 dives.