Tribute for Diana
by Fiona Croden
Diana was an uncommonly special person who genuinely touched the life of everyone who knew and came into contact with her. I have known Diana since 2006 when she joined the Human Appetite Research Unit at Leeds University as a Nutritionist. The moment I met her I knew we’d be friends.
We worked on several large scale clinical trials together and had such a great time it was hardly like working. We both loved hands on research and quickly developed a great working relationship. Our role was to recruit participants onto studies and then follow strict protocols designed to scrutinise all aspects of their physiology and eating habits.
Diana loved her work and was a fabulous researcher. She had a unique gift with people and literally could talk to anyone, about anything, for ages. Volunteers would nervously walk in the door wondering what a university researcher might be like and feeling anxious about being weighed and asked questions about their dietary habits.
This nervousness never lasted long as Diana would sweep in and work her magic. I used to watch in awe. She had such a beautiful natural ability to almost instantly put people at ease and this made her an outstanding researcher.
In 2011 she left Psychology and moved to Leeds Institute of Health Sciences to work on a Healthy Hospitals Trial. In this role she spent a lot of time on the cardiology ward called 'Jimmy’s' recruiting patients onto studies.
According to Diana this mainly involved drinking tea with long distance lorry drivers. As you can probably imagine she loved this too and I know the staff there thought very highly of her. Her boss at the time (who is here today) told me how much her ‘friendly and approachable personality made her the ideal person to recruit anxious patients from the cardiology ward’ and I know she was a highly valued member of their team
In 2014 our research unit was approached by Slimming World to conduct a weight loss clinical trial. Diana and I had worked on a similar project for Kellogg’s in 2010 so she was headhunted back to join our team on this project. Working with Diana again was a complete joy and we were thrilled to have her back.
Participants on all the studies she worked on loved her. She managed to make ordeals like fitness tests almost a fun experience.
No obese woman wants to have to put on a swimming costume and have the circumference of her stomach measured but Diana always managed to make this much less of an ordeal than they had anticipated. Whenever Diana was taking measures or running tests there was always laughter to be heard.
Although Diana loved having a laugh she was very serious about her work. She was always keen to be in on the action if some hilarity was happening but could also be relied upon to take action if things were going wrong.
Our research unit has a small 4 bay car park outside for volunteers. One day I could hear some commotion going on outside. It was a time when the department was undergoing some renovation work and there was a skip and site cabin in the car park and builders all over the place.
When I looked out I could see a young, quite nervous, female participant making a right pig’s ear of reversing her car out with an audience of builders laughing and stressing her even more. Just as I was thinking ‘oh no, this isn’t good, that poor participant’ the door from the research unit to the car park flew open and I could see Diana marching towards them, teeth gritted and fists clenched.
Picture the scene. She’d been in the research unit kitchen preparing study meals that morning so was wearing a bright blue disposable plastic apron and bright blue food prep gloves. I’ve no idea what came out of her mouth that day but by the time she’d finished with them those builders were hanging their heads in shame. This incident resulted in a site meeting regarding appropriate behaviour and a formal apology from the contractor. I know from my many visits to her during her illness that she retained that feisty, fighting spirit till the end. It was something we loved about her.
When she wasn’t shouting at builders Diana was always looking to be supportive and empathetic to everyone. She was such a kind and generous person. One day last year she noticed that it was a study participant's 50th birthday on a day she was booked into the lab for a load of measures and test meals.
We knew this lady lived on her own so Diana hatched a plan to make her birthday morning special. She got a card and a wrapped up a lush bath bomb and placed them strategically on the lady's breakfast tray. The lady was so touched when she saw what Diana had done and wrote and told us how much this had meant to her at the end of the study.
The Human Appetite Research Unit at Leeds has a reputation for low drop-out rates on large scale clinical trials. Diana was one of the reasons for this and played a massively important role in the team. Diana was such an unassuming, gentle soul that I’m not sure she even realised how talented she really was. The lab isn’t going to be the same without her.
She meant a great deal to us all in Psychology and across the University. In her honour the University of Leeds are lowering the flag on the main building to half-mast whilst this service is taking place today. I’m not quite sure what Diana would have to say about this. I suspect she’d be completely mortified but we all feel it is a lovely tribute.
I suggested to Marjie and John that we might get a memorial bench for her outside the department and they both instantly said ‘NO!’ and told me that she absolutely hated memorial benches. She was such a funny thing with what she liked and didn’t like.
It wasn’t all work at Leeds University for Diana. Exercise played a big part in her life and she made full use of all the fitness and sporting facilities, playing badminton and attending circuits.
She used to laugh her way through circuits and when encouraged to lift heavier weights she’d give it a go then quickly revert back to lighter ones when no one was looking. She drove in from Huddersfield every morning with her bike in the boot, would park on the outskirts of Leeds and then cycle into work.
She did this in all weathers. She was never one to worry about what she looked like so there was no fancy Hi-Vis Lycra cycling gear for Diana just a motorway maintenance workers jacket.
We’d offer to make her a tea when she got in but she was very particular about this. The careful preparation of her cup of tea was especially important. Diana would be horrified if you put milk in first or even worse, left the tea bag in the mug brewing while you nipped over the road to the shop to buy milk. I’ll miss the cups of tea with Diana.
I’ll also miss the lunchtime breaks from work sitting in the staff room together. Although she was a nutritionist, her own nutrition wasn’t something she paid much attention to. Lunch everyday consisted of a salad wrap, yoghurt & fruit. I’m a Dietitian but no matter how many times I mentioned the word protein to her, it wasn’t a food group she engaged with much. She’d listen to my advice then promptly carry on doing her own thing. I loved that about her. She was fiercely independent.
If you didn’t know Diana you might think she led a quiet and normal life. This wasn’t the case. On a Monday morning, she’d often just casually mention that she’d climbed a mountain that weekend, nipped up to the Scottish highlands chasing birds or completed a 20 mile cliff walk in Cornwall.
Diana was a private person in many ways and it was only after she became ill that I found out she was involved with a local church and was also a volunteer for ‘Singing for the Brain’. Diana’s visits to care homes to sing to people with Alzheimer’s will have undoubtedly brought a little sunshine into their lives. She always had a smile and was so upbeat and warm I’m sure they will have looked forward to her visits.
Her illness came as massive shock to myself and all her colleagues and friends across the University. We noticed changes in her behaviour at the start of the year but it wasn’t until March after she had been off work for some time when John contacted us and we learned about her condition. We have visited regularly and tried to support John & Marjie with the outstanding care and compassion they have shown her. She was surrounded by nothing but love in her final months.
We are looking forward to continuing to remember her with them in years to come. Diana has left a very real legacy. She was a wonderful friend and a great colleague. She played a unique and special role in her work. She brought brightness to every day and will be dearly missed.