Isley climbed the highest mountains, dove the deepest seas

Paul Isley during a 2004 summiting of Mt. Elbrus, in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. Elbrus is the tallest mountain in Europe. Photo courtesy of the Isley family

by Kevin Cody

In July, 2020, Paul Isley Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Its 19,341-foot elevation makes it the highest mountain on the African continent. At the summit, the wind-chill factor was 29 degrees below zero, Isley recalled.

The Manhattan Beach resident thought of the climb as the biggest challenge of his life, until he returned home. The physical exam he took before going to Africa, and whose results he didn’t earn until he returned home, showed he had prostate cancer.

Four years later he celebrated his cancer remission by joining an expedition with the Los Angeles Adventurers Club to climb Mt. Elbrus, in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. At 18,510, it is the highest mountain on the European continent.

Isley was a proud and enthusiastic member of the Adventurers Club, which traces its founding to a meeting of President Teddy Roosevelt and like minded “gentlemen adventurers” at Joe’s restaurant in New York in 1912. 

Through the Adventurers Club, he participated in numerous expeditions, including a trek to the Mount Everest Base Camp, and a 1,200 meter dive in Lake Baikal in Russia in the three-person deep submersible Mir I, which director James Camon used in filming Titanic.

Isley subsequently edited and published a translation of Mir I captain Dr. Anatoly Sagalevich’s  “Deep Voyages to Titanic and Beyond.” 

Throughout his adventures of the past 20 years, Isley battled with recurrences of cancer, which finally took his life on March 18. He was 76.

Isley was co-owner, with Jerry Robinson, of Rainforest Flora in Torrance, and was a world renowned expert and author on Tillandsias, commonly, (and mistakenly) known as air plants.

Isley attended Loyola High school in Los Angeles, and started selling Tillandsias at the Rose Bowl swap meet shortly after graduating from UCLA in 1970. He collected  Tillandsias during climbs through the jungles of Central America and South America. After establishing Tillandsia nurseries in Torrance and San Diego, Rainforest Flora became the only Tillandsia seller to grow the plants in the United States.


Paul Isley discusses tillandsias with Martha Stewart on the Martha Stewart Show in 2002. Photo courtesy of the Isley family


Consistent with his commitment to  traditional ways of exploration and business, Isley was a fervent adherent to Traditional Catholicism, which retains the Latin language Mass. He recently completed editing and publishing “The Reality of The Body and Blood of Christ in The Eucharist, written in 1527 by Saint John Fisher. 

Isley is survived by his wife of 38 years, Betty; son Paul T. Isley IV; daughters Kimberly Simich (John Ryan Simich), and Kacey Tandy (Bradley Tandy), grandson John Jett Simich, brothers Chris and Tom Isley (Desti Overpeck) and sister Mary McCulloch (David McCulloch).

A Traditional Latin Mass in Paul’s memory was held at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Wilmington on Wednesday April 3. In lieu of flowers you may donate to Paul’s favorite charity, PadrePio.orgER


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