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Dean Blair Pittman

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Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 1:35 pm

Dean Blair Pittman, Jr., 79, a widely known Big Bend author and longtime photographer at the Houston Chronicle, died in Alpine, Texas, on Oct. 10 following complications from a stroke. His photographs won numerous regional and national awards, and he was known for his books on the Big Thicket and the Big Bend.

A memorial service will be held 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22,. at St. James Episcopal Church in Alpine.

Pittman photographed a story on the Big Thicket published in National Geographic Magazine in 1974, which was influential in gaining recognition for a national wildlife preserve. His later books included The Natural World of the Texas Big Thicket; King of the Dog People; Texas Caves; Tales From the Terlingua Porch; and More Tales From the Terlingua Porch.

His photographs appeared in National Geographic books, Time-Life books, National Wildlife Magazine, American Heritage, Smithsonian, and other national publications. Photographs from his archive are held by Texas Tech University, including photographs of Elvis Presley, Lyndon Johnson and other Texas figures.

Pittman began his career as a journalist in 1964 at the Denton Record-Chronicle, and moved to the Houston Chronicle in 1967.

Roy Hamric, a longtime friend and the former editor of the defunct Desert Mountain Times in Alpine, said Pittman’s work on the Big Thicket was a significant contribution to the creation of the Big Thicket National Preserve.

“He recognized the Thicket’s importance early on, and he devoted a decade to meeting the people and helping to tell that story. He was a student of nature and people, and after the Thicket work, his home became the Big Bend, another wild place in the Texas landscape,” said Hamric.

Pittman moved to Terlingua in 1999, and lived alone in an rock casita in the desert. He was a regular member of the porch gang at the Terlingua Trading Post, where he gathered many of his stories for his popular books of  Big Bend tales.

In 2009, he married Jean Hardy, the owner of Front Street Books in Alpine, and in 2011, he moved to Alpine to live with her following an automobile accident.

"Blair and I shared a passion for Far West Texas and our desert and mountain country,” said Jean. “It was a joy for me to share with him the last 10 years of his life."

In 1955, Pittman graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. He was an Explorer Scout Troop adviser from 1958 through 1961, when he was only a few years older than his scouts. The troop specialty was caving, and they traveled throughout Texas and adjoining states, exploring non-commercial caves and helped to map them.

One of his former Scouts and a lifelong friend, Cedric Snyder of Austin said, “When Blair moved to Big Bend, he immediately was assimilated into the culture, as evidenced by his many friends there. I was privileged to be best man when he married Jean, and she was a godsend through his health issues the last few years.”

Pittman’s sister, Sue Fox of Fort Worth, said “I was fortunate to be the little sister who sometimes got to tag along on his expeditions - mountain-climbing, rappelling, Scuba diving and cave exploring. He made me braver than I might have been, and far more daring.

“Blair had an energy about him, always excited for the next new thing, and people were drawn to that energy and enthusiasm. They wanted to be with Blair and to go with him on his next adventure,” Fox said.

In 1962, Pittman married Abbie Carlene Brummett in the Caverns of Sonora, where he worked at the time, turning the natural cave into a commercial tourist attraction. They had a son, Troy Randall Pittman, now deceased.

Other former wives included Jeanne Norsworthy of Dallas, Houston, and the Big Bend, an artist and great-granddaughter of Dallas Morning News publisher George B. Dealey; writer Gay Scarborough of Houston, now both deceased; granddaughters, Elizabeth "Toni" Pittman and Rachel Smith, and her husband, Bryan; great-grandchildren, Anthony Lavender and Jasmine Simmons. Also he is survived by two great grandchildren.

He was born Feb. 12, 1937, to Myrtle Lawson and Dean Blair Pittman, Sr., in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a child, he lived briefly in Pecos, Texas, and overcame bouts of pneumonia and polio.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, and his sister, Sue Fox of Fort Worth.

Buck golfers take invitational

Junior Victoria Lancaster takes a long shot from the fairway at Alpine Country Club on March 12. The Lady Bucks won their home town invitational on Tuesday defeating teams from Fort Davis, Fort Stockton, Marfa and Sierra Blanca. 

Updated: 8:57 am | See more