Andrew L. Wooten, a safety adviser for the National Association of Realtors, died Tuesday after being caught in a rip current and drowning while swimming in the ocean off of Cozumel, Mexico. He was 50 years old.
Wooten, a certified crime prevention practitioner and president of safety training company Safety Awareness Firearms Education (SAFE), had worked with real estate professionals for more than 25 years and partnered with NAR as a safety trainer.
He was serving as an instructor for a real estate continuing education Seminar at Sea with Flamingo Travel sponsored by Emerald Coast Association of Realtors when he died, according to Robin Church, business manager at Jacksonville, Fla.-based SAFE.
"During one of their days in port, Andrew was swimming in some rough seas when he was caught in a rip current. He could not get out and drowned," Church said.
Church said Wooten was one of the most amazing people she had ever known.
"He was a mentor, teacher and innovator. But most of all he was an inspiration and friend to everyone he ever met. His smile could light up a room and his laughter could warm any heart," she said.
"And although I know he is in a better place where he can truly be an angel watching over us all, his early departure from this world leaves a hole in so many of us. I've heard so many say he was bigger than life and he truly was. He will never be forgotten."
He is survived by his wife, Audrey; his daughter, Jessica Walker; and countless friends and family, she said.
Wooten provided insight for a series of Inman News articles on real estate agent safety in summer 2011.
He was a certified firearms instructor and a multi-black belt in judo, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and aikido. But, he told Inman News, "I truly believe your best weapon is yourself: your mind, your voice, your body."
At the time, he said he'd learned 80 percent of what he taught from in-depth interviews he'd conducted with state and federal prisoners and with rape and assault survivors.
"Ninety-nine percent of all my survivors all say the same thing: 'Andrew, I knew something wasn't right. When I was doing the open house that little voice (said something was wrong). I didn't feel good. But I ignored it and look at what happened,'" Wooten said.
"Listen to yourself, trust yourself. Unfortunately, the little voice you get may be the only warning sign you get. If it says something's not right, get out."
He wasn't about "doom and gloom," but rather teaching real estate professionals how to live, work, and play more safely, he said.
The bulk of his customers were real estate associations and large brokerages. Many real estate pros who had seen him speak mourned him upon news of his death.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com and an Inman News columnist, said real estate had lost one of its most talented speakers and trainers in Wooten.
"I first met Andrew at the RAPDD (Realtor Association Professional Development Directors) conference in Wichita four years ago," Ross said. "I was immediately taken with his big smile, welcoming demeanor, and his passion about keeping every Realtor in this country safe."
She said Wooten was "also an inspiration for those of us on the speaking and training side of the business. He was a gifted presenter who always gave his best. We are all deeply saddened that his journey ended way too soon."
In a Facebook post, real estate educator Cheryl Knowlton said Wooten was someone she greatly admired and respected.
"My heart is broken in half and the world is not the same," Knowlton said, calling Wooten's unexpected death a "Stunning reminder that our days are numbered. Love and prayers to Andrew's family and friends."
Also on Facebook, Craig Grant, owner and CEO at The Real Estate Technology Institute, said, "You will be truly missed by so many as you were always there for everyone in need and one of the best people I have ever met. I will miss my partner in crime, conventions will never be the same without him."
The Real Estate Educators Association posted, "Andrew was a very special, kind man who cared about everyone that he touched" and had a "ready smile and willing hand to help and the biggest heart. He will be sorely missed."
Diane V. Moss, a Realtor at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene posted, "He was kind and gentle for such a big guy. I wanted him to come to Houston to teach the Realtors here. But I will pass on what he taught me. Such a loss."
Gena Kallam Gremaux, a Re/Max agent in Great Falls, Mont., said she was lucky to have met him after a tragic event happened to her while showing a home. "He sacrificed time away from his family to talk to my colleagues about how to stay safe and cope with what happened here. I got to meet him one on ... one and every day I use what he taught me to do my job and do it safe!" she posted.
"He helped me move on from that event and I for one am very thankful he shared his knowledge with others. He made a difference in my life!"
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