Frank Knight, 103, whose decades-long battle to save New England's tallest elm served as an inspiring tale of devotion, died Monday in hospice care in Yarborough, Maine.

Mr. Knight, who had affectionately referred to the 217-year-old elm nicknamed Herbie as "an old friend," was being laid to rest in a coffin made from the tree he made famous. The tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease and was cut down two years ago.

"To have them together like that is a wonderful thing," said Deb Hopkins, a close friend who succeeded Mr. Knight as tree warden in Yarmouth, outside Portland. "I feel like Frank took good care of Herbie. Now Herbie will take good care of Frank."

Mr. Knight was running a logging business in 1956 when he became the volunteer tree warden in Yarmouth, just as Dutch elm disease was killing trees by the hundreds.

He realized he couldn't save the town's elms, so he focused his efforts on one tree, a giant with a canopy that could be seen from miles away.

For five decades, Herbie survived 14 rounds of Dutch elm disease.

At age 101, Mr. Knight was sad but realistic when the 110-foot-tall tree finally met its demise.

"His time has come," Mr. Knight told the Associated Press in January 2010. "And mine is about due, too."

— AP