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Depew crash victim led exemplary, selfless life

This is a dark time in Gary Dion’s life. His wife of 50 years – the woman he always knew was “the one” – was killed in a horrible car crash Wednesday just blocks from their Depew home.

He met Carol Zilliox when they were in grade school. Years later, they became parents and grandparents, traveling partners and fellow campers. They backed each other up.

“She looked after me, I looked after her,” Gary Dion said. “But she did a better job.’’

Late Wednesday morning, the driver of a pickup said to have been weaving through traffic, hit Carol Dion’s sedan head-on. The collision in a residential area sounded like thunder, neighbors said, and it ripped the engine from her car. She died at the scene at age 72.

Gary Dion has no idea yet what his days will be like without her. But he would rather people know about her life, not his grief.

So in an interview Saturday, Gary Dion talked about the imprint Carol Ann Dion made on this world.

She had been both a Girl Scout leader and a Boy Scout leader at the same time. As the mother of three boys, she helped lead her sons’ Scout troop. Longing to mentor girls but never having a daughter, she busied herself as a Girl Scout leader, as well.

There was always some food drive, paper drive, cookie sale, merit-badge project or outing to set in motion. In the 1980s she became one of the first local Girl Scout leaders to take the youngsters on field trips out of the area. Carol Dion “set a fine example as I now lead my own troop,” one of her former Girl Scouts said in an online condolence.

The Dions moved to their ranch-style home on Susan Drive in 1976, and Carol immediately became active in the nearby Catholic church, now known as St. Martha’s, on French Road. She attended every morning.

“She was a very devout person,” said the Rev. Bart Lipiec, the pastor. “People were very upset with her passing.” In the wake of her death, worshippers placed a rose and a crucifix on her usual seat.

Gary Dion asked the couples’ nieces to describe their Aunt Carol’s qualities. She had been generous, selfless, sentimental, nonjudgmental, they said. Her son Steven said she could mediate disputes between co-workers, Scouts or family members without revealing her own feelings, or she could advise young people on matters they could not discuss with their parents.

She seemed to find the best in everyone, Gary said, and had that rare quality of never speaking poorly of someone behind their back.

He reached for a newspaper picture taken 15 years ago and then laminated, so it could be with the family for decades to come. There is Carol sledding down a hill at Como Lake Park with granddaughters Brittany and Katrina. With the snow flying around them, no one seems to be having more fun than Grandma.

Gary was three years older than Carol when they met as students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga School in Cheektowaga. She caught his eye. He was still interested in her when they were teenagers, but he joined the Marines and was stationed in Okinawa from 1958 to 1962. They reconnected when he returned to Buffalo, but she took a job in New York City. Then, upon her return, they reconnected again, and in time he was determined to propose.

Gary describes her as the product of a wholesome home – a “Leave it to Beaver” family. He describes himself as a more rough-hewn youth. To pop the question, he invited her to an isolated spot where they would watch the “submarine races” in the Niagara River. Once there, she actually asked him where the submarines were, he said. But to the all-important question, she said yes.

During his working years, Gary held important posts with the AFL-CIO and the United Way. In retirement, the red hair of his youth has turned white. He is quick to smile – even these days. But when he tells the story about Wednesday morning, he is on the verge of tears and stops frequently.

He was home awaiting his wife’s return from some errands. She had taken granddaughter Katrina, 23, to a doctor’s appointment, and they were going to make a run to a farm stand for some corn. Meanwhile, a pickup, which the Dions have learned was darting through traffic, was eastbound in their direction.

Katrina’s stepmother, Leigh Dion, said the family was told that in the instant before impact, Carol turned her car slightly to protect her passenger. The move probably saved her granddaughter’s life, Leigh Dion said. Katrina, cut by glass and badly shaken, is recovering in Erie County Medical Center.

French Road is a residential street, but the pickup was moving fast enough to flip after the collision, the family said. The female driver was ejected and hospitalized. Police have yet to make her name public.

Katrina called her grandfather from the scene to tell him about the crash.

“Grandma won’t answer me,” she told him.

Gary hurried to French Road and Beverly Drive. Wreckage was strewn along the pavement.

He knew many of the responders from his days as a fire department volunteer.

With his wife still in the car, Gary asked one of the responders if they had found a pulse.

No, he was told.

He knew nothing could be done except wait for the medical examiner.

“She was my guardian,” he said.

email: mspina@buffnews.com