Obituary: Tom Diez / Plum resident had a lifelong passion for wildlife

Dec. 4, 1933 - Feb. 3, 2014

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About the only thing Tom Diez enjoyed more than the natural world was sharing it with young people. His passion for wildlife became a lifelong vocation.

A resident of Plum, he lectured for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, and his photos and movies were shown in venues as diverse as schools, museums and television.

Mr. Diez died of cancer Monday at UPMC St. Margaret near Aspinwall. He was 80.

The son of Thomas and Esther McDowell Diez, he grew up in Oakmont and Plum but thrived in the Dark Hollow woodlands outside of Oakmont, learning about insects, birds, mammals and particularly snakes, frogs and salamanders.

"When we were young, the thing that was really special about him was he was extremely knowledgeable about herpetology," said longtime friend Walter Smith of Mt. Lebanon. "He'd be telling me what type of snake or frog it was -- scientific names, everything -- when he was still in high school. He had a respect for nature and learned a lot about it."

Nicknamed The Hawk as a boy for his ability to spot wildlife, Mr. Diez attended Oakmont High School and The Kiski School in Saltsburg before studying biology at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. He took courses in zoology at the University of Pittsburgh.

For 45 years Mr. Diez supported his family as a self-employed wildlife photographer and videographer. He travelled the world capturing wildlife on film, presenting his work in wildlife lectures at school assemblies for grades K-12 throughout Pennsylvania.

"He brought critters home. There were live snakes in boxes in the basement," said niece Michelle Cellone of Coraopolis. "He taught us to appreciate every living thing and the importance of preserving them for future generations. We would spend hours on hikes, and he knew about everything."

Sometimes his journeys didn't work out so well, and stories about his adventures have taken on lives of their own. More than once Mr. Diez was bitten by rattlesnakes he was trying to photograph or capture. Dropped off by a pontoon plane for a remote Alaska fishing trip, he was stranded for three weeks by a storm and survived on crabs caught in an onion bag. And once, some 30 years ago, he was kidnapped in Kenya -- or perhaps detained by the government -- and his film confiscated.

Mr. Diez was a consultant for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. His photographs were used by Carnegie Museum and the National Wildlife Federation, and his wildlife footage was aired on TV by the National Geographic Society.

Mr. Diez enjoyed vacations at the family's log cabin camp in Potter County. Daughter Becky Macioce of Penn Hills said he had a knack for making her and her sisters feel safe outdoors. Daughter Georgene Stinelli of Verona said his love of nature was contagious.

"He'd tell us about this plant and that bug," she said. "He knew everything and he made us care about what he cared about in life."

A longtime fly fisherman, Mr. Diez was a member of Trout Unlimited and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He enjoyed beekeeping, baking bread, playing the saxophone and painting wildlife pictures.

His wife Lee Diez died in 2009. He's survived by a sister, Martha Augostine; four daughters, Cathy Dodson of Wellsboro, Tioga County, Karen Ohmann of Minnesota, Ms. Macioce and Ms. Stinelli; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Mr. Diez's life will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 15 in the parish hall of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 378 Delaware Ave., Oakmont. The family requests memorial donations in his name be made to Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley, 533 Linden Ave., New Kensington, PA 15068 (note "Spay and Neuter Fund" on donations).

John Hayes: 412-263-1991,


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