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After traveling the world, Gale Dick, a retired University of Utah physics professor, decided the best place he had ever visited was in his own backyard.

"The most amazing place I've ever been, the most stunning place in the world is the Lone Peak Cirque, without a doubt. It is truly a magnificent and wonderful place," Dick said a few years ago, according to Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons.

That love of the Wasatch Mountains, as well as of the community, prompted Dick to co-found Save Our Canyons in 1972 and work to protect the wilderness. His death on Friday at age 88 "has left a gaping hole in our hearts and our lives," Fisher said.

"It will take nothing short of an army of passionate people to fill the shoes of this one man," Fisher said Saturday.

Dick's son Tim Dick said his father died at University Hospital of natural causes.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said he considered Dick to be an important adviser on environmental issues affecting the Wasatch canyons.

"Even though he fought hard for preservation, he was always courteous and listened with an open mind," McAdams said. "We will all miss his intelligence, humor and, above all, dogged persistence on behalf of our Central Wasatch Mountain home."

Dick was born June 12, 1926, in Portland, Ore. He served in the Navy at the end of World War II and was a Rhodes scholar who studied at the University of Oxford, his son said. He became a member of the U. physics department in 1959 and researched matter theory. During his four decades at the school he served as a faculty member, administrator, department chairman and dean of the graduate school.

His passion was preserving the canyons, Tim Dick said. Dick served on the Save Our Canyons board since its 1972 founding and "that was his full-time job after he retired from the university," Tim Dick said.

Often his advocacy put him at odds with ski resorts. He unsuccessfully opposed the land swap that prepared Snowbasin Resort for the 2002 Olympics and was a frequent critic when the resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons wanted to add lifts or expand their ski terrains. Dick was concerned that development would detract from the natural beauty of the Wasatch Mountains and have environmental consequences, including erosion of Salt Lake City's watershed.

When Save Our Canyons marked its 40th anniversary, the organization listed successes such as helping to get Lone Peak designated as Utah's first wilderness area, keeping 2002 Winter Olympic venues out of the Cottonwood Canyons, the passage of the 1989 Wasatch Canyons master plan and the elimination of commercial flight paths over much of the range.

In addition to his environmental advocacy, Dick found time for music and community service. He was a violinist in various chamber music groups and was one of the founders of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City.

In addition to Tim Dick, he is survived by his wife, Ann; a son, Gale; a daughter, Robin; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A service will be held sometime in the fall, Tim Dick said.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC