Alen Malott served as an Inquirer photo editor for more than 30 years. His colleagues considered him one of the best in the business.

Two years ago, his job was eliminated. But Mr. Malott continued to work, pursuing his lifelong passion: scuba diving. Over the decades, he explored and photographed dozens of shipwrecks off the coasts of New Jersey and North Carolina and in the Caribbean. He also trained hundreds of students to become certified divers at Temple University, and at quarries, lakes, and clubs throughout the Philadelphia region.

“He loved scuba more than anything,” said former colleague Margaret Grace. “For a guy who was born and grew up in Indiana, a landlocked state, that always amazed me.”

Mr. Malott, 69, died at his home in Lansdowne on Christmas Day, two days after rotator cuff surgery, said Harry Fisher, a neighbor and a friend of three decades. There was a minor complication after the operation, Fisher said, but Mr. Malott called him on Christmas Eve to assure him he was all right. Yet, when Fisher went to check on him Wednesday morning, there was no answer. The Delaware County Coroner’s Office told family members the cause of death was coronary artery disease, said Mr. Malott’s niece, Jody Cummings.

Mr. Malott always traveled with a camera and used it with rare skill.

“Between photography and diving, that was his life,” Fisher said. “He traveled all over, including to the islands where he did Blackbeard’s Cruises, where you dive up to five times a day. Alen was always the man behind the camera. Other people were his subjects. You have very few pictures of Alen.”

His eye in the Inquirer newsroom was highly valued by his bosses.

“I was privileged to work with him," said Michael Mercanti, the former director of photography for The Inquirer and Daily News. "Alen was by far the best photo editor I’ve known. He was smart, methodical, even-tempered, forward-focused, brutally honest -- yet never mean-spirited.”

Brian Leighton, deputy managing editor of The Inquirer, worked closely with Mr. Malott for more than 20 years.

“He represented a generation of photo editors who understood the art of photography and the importance of capturing an image that could tell the story in an immediate and visceral way,” Leighton said. “For decades, he labored to make our news pages as visually compelling as possible. He was an advocate for photographers, but he also understood the needs of readers.”

Born to Frank and Marjorie Malott in Pike County, Ind., Glen Alen Malott graduated from the University of Southern Indiana in 1972. His friends said he made and sold candles to pay his way through school. He also played drums in a bluegrass band called Pete and the Country Boys. His first professional journalism jobs included stints at the Evansville Sunday Courier and the Sun Commercial in Vincennes, Ind.

His parents were later killed by a tornado that swept through their town.

In 1975, Mr. Malott moved to Lexington, Ky., where he earned a master’s degree in photography from the University of Kentucky. He became a professor, taught photojournalism there, and wrote a book titled Photography and the Law of Privacy. And he shot photos for the Wildcats, considered the most successful NCAA Division I basketball program in history.

“We would watch games on TV to see him sitting on the edge of the court shooting pics,” said Cummings.

In 1986, Mr. Malott was hired at The Inquirer. Initially, he managed a group of 30 photographers in the suburban bureaus.

“He brought with him a strong institutional knowledge of photojournalism, ethics, and picture-editing,” said Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish.

Stan Wischnowski, The Inquirer’s executive editor, noted that Mr. Malott prided himself on staying ahead of the technological curve.

“He was our first photo editor to be certified as a drone pilot because he knew that license would someday elevate our news report,” Wischnowski said.

In addition to his niece, Mr. Malott is survived by two sisters, Annetta Nelson and Kay Benjamin, both of Petersburg, Ind.; a nephew, Greg Benjamin, of Clearwater, Fla.; two great-nephews, one great-niece, and one great-great-nephew. A brother, Donald, preceded him in death.

A celebration of Mr. Malott’s life, scheduled for March 14 at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church’s cultural center, was canceled because of the coronavirus.