George "Jorge" Anthony Knott was by all accounts unconventional.
He was a political science major who attended UC Berkeley on an ROTC scholarship, a naval flight officer, a Grateful Dead fan who grew his hair long and wore it in dreadlocks, an accomplished musician, rock climber and mountaineer, and a science professor and mentor to students and fellow faculty members.
Mr. Knott, 56, retired in 2011 after 21 years as a physics and physical science professor at Cosumnes River College. He drowned April 29 while swimming in the ocean off Miami Beach when he and a friend became caught in a riptide. His companion survived.
Family members said he was in Miami to join a cruise to Europe for a family reunion and bicycle trip.
"George was very eclectic and unique," said Robert Montanez, dean of science, math and engineering at Cosumnes River College.
Several years ago, he noted, Mr. Knott adopted the Spanish version of his first name, and was known to friends and colleagues as "Jorge."
"George wasn't always the most structured person, but he was a mentor to so many faculty here," Montanez said. "He always made people feel comfortable and welcome to their division."
Fellow physics professor Michael Lawlor described Mr. Knott as one of the department's more animated instructors, a quality that endeared him to students. He also had a knack for technology, creating a multimedia lab for the department about 15 years ago.
"It was a pretty monstrous undertaking," Lawlor said.
Mr. Knott was born in Reno and grew up in San Jose. He loved the outdoors, said his mother, Brigitte Barnes, recalling that he got a pair of cowboy boots when he was 5 years old and pitched a tent outside.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Mr. Knott served 12 years as a naval flight officer, flying P-3 aircraft missions. He earned a master's degree in acoustical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
"What impressed me most about him was just his love of life," said Rich Drescher, a fellow flight officer. "He was very energetic. He studied philosophy just to understand life better."
Drescher said he and Mr. Knott were not conventional naval officers. He recalled an occasion when the two purchased kids' space helmets and outrageous-looking sunglasses, then snuck out onto the flight line and took photos of each other in the cockpit of a plane wearing their helmets and crazy sunglasses.
"He knew that in a way he was kind of a fish out of water, but he did well at what he did," Drescher said. "When there was a job within the squadron, he would embrace it as much as anything else."
After leaving the Navy, Mr. Knott grew his hair long. It was after one of his many rock-climbing trips to Thailand that he began wearing it in dreadlocks, his mother said.
"His students loved him," Barnes said.
He told her the dreadlocks helped him get closer to his students, particularly those who had experienced difficulties in their lives.
Family and friends said he had a way of making everyone feel comfortable. His house was always filled with people, said his mother. He was twice married and divorced but remained friends with his ex-wives.
Mr. Knott's adventures resulted in a couple of brushes with death. He was part of a mountaineering expedition that was stranded in the mountains of Peru during a snowstorm. Some members of the party died.
He also was in Thailand in 2004 when a tsunami hit. He saw the waves coming in and managed to make it to high ground, but he was deeply affected by the destruction. His mother said he took a leave from teaching and stayed for a couple of months to help with relief efforts.
Barnes said she believes the physical hardships Mr. Knott experienced in Peru and Thailand contributed to the development of kidney disease that led him to retire last year.
But colleagues said he made every effort to stay physically fit, and Montanez said he had talked to Mr. Knott recently about returning to teaching at the college part time next year.
Montanez said Mr. Knott will be recognized and professor emeritus honors conferred posthumously during the college's commencement ceremony Wednesday.