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In memoriam: Sun has set on FFRF’s friend Diane Uhl

Diane and Stephen Uhl

Freethought Today is saddened to report the death of Diane Uhl on April 6, 2022. Diane, of Tucson, Ariz., was a longtime member and benefactor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Diane, 84, who once named Frank Sinatra singing “I Did It My Way” as one of her favorite things, did it her way. After finding she faced almost total vision loss to the wet form of macular degeneration, she took control of her own fate, using nitrous oxide.

She was born in Milwaukee on June 13, 1937, and raised in the small town of Evansville, Wis., earning her B.A. from Ripon College. She received her Master’s from Northwestern University in speech correction/special education. As she wrote for Freethought Today’s “Meet a Member” column in June/July 2013, she thought she would “save all those children with special needs [but] those children taught me more about life than I ever imagined.”

She spent 33 years teaching in public schools. According to Greg Uhl, her nephew, Diane was an innovator in Chicago schools, introducing Apple computers to students and breaking new ground.

“The one action item I took from my Lutheran upbringing that seemed to make sense was the Golden Rule,” she wrote. “I always say they should put ‘She Tried’ on my tombstone (which I won’t have).” Reading Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian started her on her path to freethought. By her sophomore year in college, she had rejected religion. She always taught her students, “Show me, prove it!”

She particularly admired activists, such as then-Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez (now a state senator), who opened up a House session with a freethinking invocation. Mendez is among the “real people stepping up, not just a number in the ‘Nones’ column of a Pew Research report.” She added, “More power to them.”

She met and married her “best friend,” Steve Uhl, and in 1993, they retired, sold everything, bought an RV and traveled full time to all 49 continental states. The couple first joined FFRF in 1999.

Diane and her late husband gave $250,000 toward FFRF’s building fund, when FFRF added on five floors to its original two-story building in 2015. The legal wing is named for Diane Uhl, who also purchased the Steinway piano in FFRF’s Charlie Brooks Auditorium. The studio where FFRF’s radio show, TV show and Facebook Live shows are recorded is named the “Friendly Atheist Stephen Uhl Studio.” 

Among projects they helped underwrite was an “Out of the Closet” billboard campaign in Tucson and Phoenix. Diane’s billboard carried her motto, “I respect people for their deeds not their creeds.”

Diane gave $100,000 this year to FFRF to underwrite the Diane and Stephen Uhl Essay Competition for Law Students, as well as $25,000 for “Out of God’s Closet” scholarships for freethinking student activists.The title is a nod to Steve’s book, called Out of God’s Closet: This Priest Psychologist Chooses Friendly Atheism. Diane personally approved of Elle Harris, author of “Elle the Humanist,” as first recipient of this special $5,000 scholarship, which will be bestowed at FFRF’s 45th annual convention.

“We had hoped that Diane would be there to personally hand over the scholarship check,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We are so grateful for everything Diane and Steve did for FFRF, for the freethought movement and for students in their own community. They have done so much good for the freethought community and the world, and their deaths leave a hole.”

After Steve died at age 91 in February 2021, Diane wrote a letter to FFRF as she sat watching “Steve’s final sunset, which I will toast with a glass of wine from our sunlit patio.” She ended the letter by saying, “Steve would close with a big smile and his wish to all of you to ‘Live long, die short.’”

She followed this advice. In her “Meet a Member” reply to the question, “Where I’m headed,” Diane Uhl wrote: “To dust, but I like to think of it as my personal sunset.”