Given his fascination with modern medicine, Al Dieffenbach's friends thought he should become a doctor. Instead, he devoted his career to writing about the Seattle area's advances...

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Given his fascination with modern medicine, Al Dieffenbach’s friends thought he should become a doctor. Instead, he devoted his career to writing about the Seattle area’s advances in health care.

Mr. Dieffenbach, known for his love of family and his crusty sense of humor, died of a heart attack Monday at the age of 76 in Surprise, Ariz., where he and his wife, Mary Lu, spent winters away from their Edmonds home.

He worked in The Seattle Times newsroom for 29 years as a medical reporter and copy editor before retiring in 1993.

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One of seven children, he grew up in New Jersey during the Depression. During World War II, he delivered telegrams, which frequently conveyed news of the wounded and dead. His oldest brother, Rudy, was killed in combat in 1945.

Mr. Dieffenbach moved west to attend the University of Idaho, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He took a job at the Chronicle in Spokane, where Mary Lu wrote for the United Press. They were married 47 years. As a Times medical reporter, his favorite topic was the pioneering use of kidney dialysis here. He enjoyed interviewing doctors about innovations, such as the artificial heart.

Mr. Dieffenbach didn’t limit himself to science, but “he was also out for justice,” said Dr. Abe Bergman, a pediatrician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. One story exposed how a child was burned by flammable clothing, Bergman recalled.

He wrote a front-page article about visiting his brother’s grave in Holland, in 1976. The final sentence contrasted Rudy Dieffenbach’s sacrifice against society’s penchant for war. “Mankind in general has a poor memory and a monstrous selfishness that will not yet allow it, like you, to rest in peace,” he wrote.

Mr. Dieffenbach was moved against his will to the copy desk in 1981, one of many personnel changes at the time.

The move embittered him toward management, though relations ultimately thawed. The first year, said Steve Wainwright, then-copy-desk chief, Dieffenbach refused to enter his best headlines in a contest because he didn’t “want to give the bastards the satisfaction” of making a good decision by moving him. A few years later he relented, entered the contest and won.

Wainwright compared Mr. Dieffenbach to a world-wise detective, schooling rookies in the ways of the street.

“He was very fatherly toward me,” said longtime reporter and editor Lee Moriwaki.

Mr. Dieffenbach frequently talked about his three sons and his grandchildren.

His wife said he was proud of his association with The Seattle Times.

“Al was a warm, loving man, who bluffed his way through life as a cynic,” she said.

Mr. Dieffenbach flew Cessna airplanes. Like his father, he listened to pro baseball games on the radio, and he and his wife frequently attended Mariners spring-training games in Arizona. Mr. Dieffenbach was a board member for Little Red School House, which serves developmentally delayed children in Snohomish County.

After suffering a ruptured abdominal artery on Jan. 11, 1994, he was saved by Dr. Steven MacFarlane, a surgeon at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds. Every year afterward, he mailed MacFarlane a thank-you note on the anniversary date.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his sisters, Charlotte Henderson, of Hellertown, Pa., and Alice Bowden, of Toms River, N.J.; brothers Bill, of Virginia Beach, Va., Arthur, of Toms River, N.J., and Phil, of Holmes Beach, Fla.; sons Jay, of Phoenix, Alex, of Issaquah, and Dan, of San Diego; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is at 11 a.m. Monday at Edmonds United Methodist Church, 828 Caspers St. Donations may be made to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, 701 Dexter Ave. N., Suite 105, Seattle, WA 98109.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com