By Tyler Leeds
The snowfall that blanketed Central Oregon played a role in at least three deaths over the weekend, including that of a well-known wildland advocate.
On Saturday an elderly couple was found dead buried under the snow near Sisters. Also on Saturday, longtime Oregon Wild staff member Tim Lillebo, 61, collapsed and died while shoveling snow at his home near Bend. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office does not suspect foul play in either case.
A sheriff’s deputy responded to a call on Saturday for a welfare check after the couple, 83-year-old Henry Constable and his wife, 69-year-old Brooke Constable, had not been seen since Friday. The couple’s car was located along Crossroads Loop west of Sisters.
The deputy and officials from the Sisters Fire Department found the couple buried under snow between the car and their nearby residence. The Sheriff’s Office speculates the couple had been walking from their car to their house along an unplowed driveway. The case remains under investigation.
Lillebo, Oregon Wild’s Eastern Oregon wildlands advocate, collapsed while shoveling snow Saturday at his home on Kentucky Road in Tumalo. He was found by his wife about 30 minutes after going outside to shovel snow, and life-saving efforts failed to revive him.
Lillebo had worked for Oregon Wild, an advocacy group that seeks to preserve Oregon’s wildlands, since 1975, a year after the group was founded. Lillebo joined the organization after working as a timber faller.
According to his Oregon Wild staff biography, “working in the woods (as a timber faller) gave him an appreciation for the trees that sustain us.”
In an emailed statement, Oregon Wild Executive Director Sean Stevens wrote that “Tim will be remembered for so many things — his charm; his passion for rafting, hiking and hunting; and the ever-present crushed felt hat and cigar hanging from his mouth. For those that knew and loved Tim in his personal life he will be mourned as a loving husband and friend. For those at Oregon Wild, we will remember a hero who inspired us all and gave so much to protect Oregon’s wild places. We often joked that Tim could never retire, because, there would simply be no way to replace him. It is true — Tim Lillebo was one of a kind and we will miss him dearly.”
“Tim was a real catalyst for positive change,” said John Allen, supervisor for the Deschutes National Forest.
“He was a true advocate and a good collaborator,” Allen said. “He had the wisdom to see collaboration as a positive way to move forward. Instead of always fighting and disagreeing, he learned the art of good dialogue and compromise. Because of that, he was able to help a lot of people, including the Forest Service, to do better work.”
Phil Chang, program administrator for the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, worked with Lillebo to create community-led forest health collaboratives and emphasized Lillebo’s contributions to the state.
“Tim has been a monumental figure over the last 20 to 30 years in the Eastern Oregon forest community,” Chang said. “He was there fighting in the timber wars of the ’70s and ’80s, and he stopped many old-growth areas from being logged. But you could say that about a lot of people, whereas Tim helped to end the wars.”
Chang credits Lillebo’s upbringing in the timber community around John Day for his ability to successfully advocate for preservation.
“Because of his roots, he was able to have a vision of a healthy, restored forest taken care of by communities that used to cut down trees,” Chang said. “Instead of cutting them down, Tim saw them as stewards, and people who could make a livelihood from the forests, too.”
Chang noted that “Tim spent all his time on the forests, and maybe he was spread too thin.”
“All his work may have led to the stress and strain that killed him,” Chang said. “He cared so deeply, and he could never say no. This is a tremendous loss.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org