Those who knew Diane Moreau Hemmings would know of her extensive volunteer work in Niagara-on-the Lake, and her extremely wide range of interests.
But they might not realize the extent of her education, the wide range of her skills, the many places she has lived, the diversity of her careers or the number of organizations to which she lent her time and talents.
In short, Diane was an engaging and talented woman, and one who shared her many interests and skills to help make her community better for all who live here.
Her husband David Hemmings, an author of several books on local history, says about his presentation during a plaque dedication and tree-planting for Diane, that he missed her word-smithing skills. Her passion for speech-writing and understanding of rhetoric stemmed from her persuasive speech studies that led to her doctorate, her days as a political lobbyist on Capitol Hill in Washington, and her time as a docent at the Library of Congress, he says.
David spoke of his wife of to a group of friends and fellow volunteers during a ceremony for Diane at the NOTL Museum Tuesday, one of the many local organizations she supported.
Born in Montreal, where she received a master of science degree in nursing, she became the first psychiatric nurse to publish her research with her colleague doctors at medical conventions around the world.
During her early career, she was a psychiatric nursing consultant with several medical institutions, and on the teaching staff at various universities in three countries. She also received a master of science at Wichita State University, before pursuing a Ph.D in communications in Wales.
More recently, says David, her husband of 48 years, Diane taught at Brock University in three faculties.
She had lived and worked in many areas of the U.S., in South Wales and Canary Wharf in Britain; and finally told their family in 2008 she was going to live in Niagara-on-the Lake.
David says that had been her goal for many years, but he was finishing up his career in Britain, not quite ready for retirement. He asked her to give him a bit of time, which stretched into six years. Finally, she said to him, “I’m going to move to Niagara-on-the-Lake. What are you going to do?”
She had travelled to several foreign parts around the globe, by destination cruises, conference attendance and train trips. She used her French and Spanish to get by in many places. And her deep academic passion for political rhetoric made her a news junky, he says, an interest that never left her.
Although she had visited many beautiful cities, “she loved this place very much, for all sorts of reasons,” says David, “primarily its cultural heritage.”
Once settled in NOTL, Diane embraced herself in several different interests.
“We weren’t people to sit around in retirement and watch TV,” says David. “That wasn’t for us. It was more like starting a new career. We both felt passionate about giving back to the community, and its importance during this stage of retirement. Diane felt that very strongly.”
The list of her volunteer interests is proof of that — she continued to put her skills to work, including helping NOTL win the international Communities in Bloom competition.
The two books she compiled on the town’s activities, interests and environment to that end “are truly a unique reflection of who we are – and they thoroughly impressed the judges who gave this town the honour of being international champions,” says David.
“She was particularly proud of the work the CiB did, a committee she chaired for as long as she could.”
Diane “had a strong sense of being a responsible volunteer for the community, and making it a better place for all,” and, as a private person who never sought publicity, “she didn’t want anything in return,” adds David.
“Her accomplishments have spread across several disparate community-run organizations.”
As co-chair of the NOTL Horticultural Society, she re-wrote its constitution to meet requirements of the ministry of agriculture, and helped to create the basis for a stable, well-managed, community-financed organization whose membership many have enjoyed over the succeeding years.
She was a member of the NOTL Museum, enjoyed its many programs and lectures, and supported its fundraising efforts for the expansion.
On the board of Music Niagara, Diane helped to bring sensible management to the acclaimed Performance Academy for young musicians, and the leadership of Music Niagara. She raised over half of the necessary funds from grants for the first Choral Festival two years ago — her skill at grant-writing was duly noted by those who benefited from it.
Her persuasive skills made her “highly capable” of bringing people together when necessary, “at a time when that needed to be done. That was her skill,” he says.
She was also a member of the Shaw Guild, not a cerebral or onerous task, but one which gave her great pleasure — by helping to seat people as they arrived at the theatre, she and David got to enjoy Shaw productions.
Diane also took great pleasure in playing maj-jong and participating in a community current affairs group, a knitting group and a book club.
Diane’s volunteer ethic was exemplary, says David, and “her astute mind, her empathy for others and her ability to make things happen for the good of the community will be missed.”
Lord Mayor Betty Disero agrees. Diane was not only a passionate volunteer for the town, but a treasured friend.
Anything that needed to be done, Diane would tackle — there was nothing she wouldn’t do.
In addition to building the community profile books for the Communities in Bloom competition, she organized the garden of the week contests.
“She was a wonderful friend,” says Disero.
“She was a nice person, she was generous, and she could be brutally honest.”
She was also very intelligent, adds Disero.
“Anything I asked her to do, she could do it. She didn’t want publicity. She just wanted to roll up her sleeves and get the job done. She was a very private person.”
She was quick to tell the lord mayor what she was doing wrong, and what she was doing right. If there was an issue that needed attention, she would say so. And since Diane was connected to so many people through her volunteer work, she sometimes heard about issues before the lord mayor, and never hesitated to pass along what she had heard, so something could be done about them, says Disero.
“She was also a wonderful conversationalist, about all kinds of things. I liked just hanging out with Diane and David. It was always interesting. In terms of current events, world politics, and even locally, she was well-informed and knew what was going on. I could always rely on her for an honest opinion,” says Disero. “I’m really going to miss her.”