In memoriam: Stephen Uhl was major FFRF benefactor

Stephen and Diane Uhl at FFRF’s convention in Los Angeles in 2014.

Stephen F. Uhl, 91, a Beyond After-Life Member and major donor to FFRF, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Oro Valley, Ariz.

“Steve and his wife Diane have been such boosters of freethought, humanism and FFRF,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We feel so privileged to have known Steve and worked with him on many fronts. Steve was an important part of FFRF.”

He was born in rural southern Indiana in 1930, the sixth of nine children. At 14, he entered the boarding seminary at Saint Meinrad [Ind.] Archabbey, a Swiss order of Benedictine monks, where he stayed for six years. His major seminary studies (also for six years) were at Marmion Abbey in Aurora, Ill. He was ordained in 1956 as a priest, after which he was sent to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where Steve earned an S.T.L. degree (Sacrae Theologiae Licentia). 

“My serious doubts [about religion] started one morning in the monastery chapel in 1964 when I was 34 and was meditating on the intellectual proofs of God’s existence,” Steve wrote in a 2011 “Meet a Member” profile in Freethought Today. “I had a ‘lightning bolt’ insight in which I clearly saw how St. Thomas Aquinas’ supposedly strongest proof (his causality proof) fell far short, because it was based on an unwarranted assumption.”

After he left the priesthood in 1967, he earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Loyola University in Chicago. He married Diane on the Winter Solstice in 1968.

Steve taught high school religion and mathematics and counseled at the Benedictine Marmion Military Academy for 10 years. 

Once freed from the priesthood, he taught public high school math and became a certified school psychologist. He opened a private practice as a psychologist in 1976, from which he eventually retired.

In 1999, Steve and Diane joined FFRF. Over the years, they became major benefactors and were among the most generous donors to FFRF’s building expansion in 2014, giving $250,000 to the Building Fund. Since then, they have been honored in several places in FFRF’s Freethought Hall: The Stephen Uhl Friendly Atheist Studio, the Diane Uhl Steinway Grand Piano and the Diane and Stephen Uhl Legal Wing.

“Steve paid for one of our major ‘Out of the Closet’ personalized billboard campaigns in Phoenix and Tucson,” Gaylor says. “Not only is the legal wing of our office named for the Uhls, but they have given other major support for FFRF’s Legal Fund. It’s thanks to the Uhls that FFRF started our ‘Educate Congress’ campaign, culminating in the hiring of our D.C.-based director of governmental affairs.” 

Steve told FFRF of his transition from believer to atheist.

“The superstitions learned in early childhood came into conflict with my adult learnings,” he wrote. “The common sense I had learned from my father (a farmer) drove me to follow my reasoning conscience and break the bonds of traditional superstition.” 

In 2009, he wrote Out of God’s Closet (a few copies remain for purchase at ffrf.org/shop).

“This book started out to be an intimate letter to my 31 nieces and nephews,” Steve writes in the preface of the book. “I had just recently learned that I had prostate cancer. My love would not let me die before trying to help my large family avoid some of the more serious errors of my earlier ways. So, I began to write to that large family to share some of the important lessons I had learned over seven decades.

“It was not any sense of guilt that drove me to undo the fallacies and superstitions that I had taught so effectively as a naïve young priest. It was more a sense of responsibility for mopping up after my earlier mistakes. Then, as the book developed, it became a joyful sense of sharing that drove me to develop my message for all the planetary neighbors.”

“His influence will live on, but he will be very missed,” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker says. “We send our condolences to Diane, his life partner in all his endeavors.”

Diane and Stephen Uhl outside the Stephen Uhl Friendly Atheist Studio in Freethought Hall.

A letter to
FFRF members
from Diane Uhl

Feb. 10, 2021

To my friends at FFRF,

Steve, my best friend in all the world, died here in our home in Tucson.

Steve was granted peace from the physical pain which had taken over his body. After 90 years, he had finally come to the time which we all must, and as Steve would say, when, “It is better not to be than to be.”

We thought he was going to have hip surgery, but while waiting for that surgery date, the prostate cancer went rampant and metastasized into the bones and other vital organs, causing excruciating pain.

Steve went to ER on Feb. 3 and on Feb. 5 he came home, with our decision being that we would do home hospice care, since our emphasis is on quality of life, not quantity. As per his (and our) personal philosophy, he gave up eating and drinking, with the goal being to bring about death in as peaceful and pain-free a manner as possible.

We worked to keep the pain under control with medication and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. 

I was ever so fortunate to have the support of family and friends, near and far, to help me through this journey.

I had just sat at his bedside to read him Chapter One of the book that he authored, Imagine No Superstition, and two friends had stopped by. Fortunately, I was able to be there as Steve took his very last breath. 

So, as I write this, I am looking at Steve’s final sunset, which I will toast with a glass of wine from our sunlit patio.

I am feeling very, very grateful for all the love, the adventures, the accomplishments and the fun that we have shared. Much of that was shared with many of you.

I shall never, ever regret having him here in our home, as opposed to a hospice facility, for these last hours of his life. Those hours were some of our most loving and most difficult hours of our 50-year marriage.

I want to thank each of you for your sharing and contributing to our lives.

I shall go forward with many of the projects that we had been working on, especially in regard to education. The very morning of the day that Steve went to the ER, he had spent several hours processing requests of teachers here in Arizona for financial support in their upcoming teaching endeavors.

So, Steve would close with a big smile and his wish to all of you to “Live long, die short.”