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A Pursuit Of 'Waterbirds' Concludes A Variegated Life

Theodore Cross pursued many passions over his 86 years: He was a real estate lawyer, a publisher, a White House adviser and a leading spokesman for black economic development.

But Cross was perhaps most passionately a lover and photographer of waterbirds.

Cross died on Sunday of heart failure, following a fall at his home in Sanibel, Fla.

NPR's Melissa Block talked with him back in December, when he published his glorious, huge photo book titled Waterbirds.

He said then that he "found no room in his life" for birds until he was in his 40s.

"I was totally ignorant of birds, then — whammo — 20 years later they became a very important part of my life," Cross said. "Except for family and friends, there's few things I care more about than these seabirds."

His pursuit of waterbirds took him hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe.

Well into his later years, he went on birding expeditions to Siberia, China, South America and the Arctic.

"When I take these terrific trips, people say, 'Holy smoke! At your age you do these things?' But it certainly does get you through the difficult years of approaching what is going to happen," he said.

He added, "Photography's part of it. Someone once said to me, 'Ted Cross will go to his maker without having gotten the perfect picture of a reddish egret.' So that gives you an idea of what's important in my life. Why I do it, I don't know, but I do get enormous pleasure from it, and it does indeed make it possible to face that ultimate day that lies ahead. It is a way of dealing with the expectation of death."

Theodore Cross spent just about every day of the last month at the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, still trying to get the perfect picture of a reddish egret. He died Sunday at age 86.

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