Last month, the National Air and Space Museum lost long-time employee, Tom Dietz. Tom began his time at the Museum in the late 1980s as an intern, and joined the permanent staff in 1989 as a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Division. A Baltimore native, prior to coming to the Museum, he served in the U.S. Navy and graduated from the University of Virginia. Over the years, Tom’s curatorial responsibilities grew to include the model aircraft, the German aircraft, and the armament collections. His interests also included astronomy, and he worked with the Planetarium and the Division of Space History on various programs. Tom was also a master model builder, an avid fisherman, and a cycling enthusiast.
Tom’s career highlights included being part of the curatorial team that produced the exhibition Legend, Memory, and the Great War in the Air, which opened in 1991 and is still one of our finest exhibitions. Another milestone in Tom’s 20 years here was the publication of On Miniature Wings, with Eric Long, a stunning book on the Museum’s model aircraft collection.
Apart from Tom’s professional accomplishments, he left his mark on us all with his quick mind, quick wit, and passion for his interests. Whether it was his encyclopedic knowledge of World War II German aircraft color schemes, his ability to recall verbatim almost everything he ever read, or his limitless knowledge of rock-n-roll trivia, a conversation with Tom always left an impression. He was a curious person and loved nothing more than exploring the topic of the moment in thoughtful and rousing debate.
The National Air and Space Museum family history is populated with many extraordinary, and irrepressible, personalities who have left their unique contribution to our collective story. Tom Dietz has left a lasting chapter in this ever-evolving tale. We’ll be remembering him around here for a long time to come.
Peter Jakab is the Associate Director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum.