June 4, 2022

A Diane Duntley Tribute

The funeral for Diane Duntley was held in Christ Episcopal Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. I paid a personal tribute to her, which I have reproduced below. (Her newspaper obituary can be read here.)

The Episcopal Church brought Diane Duntley and me together. Twenty years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh faced a split over issues of sexuality. I became involved with Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, eventually becoming its president. I have no idea how Diane came to be involved with PEP, but I began seeing her at PEP meetings and getting to know her. When she had diocesan meetings in Pittsburgh but needed to wait for her ride back to Indiana, I drove in from Mt. Lebanon to join her for dinner. She liked to try new restaurants.

We both enjoyed concerts, and Diane often invited me to Indiana to accompany her at events at IUP.

When I was faced with a large rent increase, Diane decided that I needed to move from Mt. Lebanon and into an apartment in her basement. I resisted her entreaties, but she showed up with a student helper, boxes, and, eventually, a moving van. As her health deteriorated, what began as a post-retirement project became a deeper friendship with a live-in caregiver.

I learned that Diane had grown up on a dairy farm in the small Pennsylvania town of Corydon, a town eventually obliterated by the reservoir formed behind the Kinzua Dam. Her mother played a reed organ in the local Methodist church, and Diane took on various church duties. Her first few years of school were in a one- or perhaps it was a two-room schoolhouse. She graduated from Allegheny College, taught in two New York school districts, and eventually earned a doctorate in reading from the University of Buffalo.

She was recruited by IUP to help prepare disadvantaged students for the rigors of college. She didn’t expect to spend her professional career in Indiana, but that’s what happened. Her university work involved little teaching. Instead, she was tasked with a succession of special projects that no one else at the university seemed to want to handle, a role she continued to fill because she always seems to have completed them successfully. As I discovered when I was snatched off to Indiana, Diane was a planner and a force to be reckoned with.

Diane’s parents and her younger sibling, Kevin, died years ago. Diane never married, though she seems not to have had philosophical objections to the institution. Having no children of her own, she devoted her attention to her three nephews and, later, to their sons and daughters. She loved to entertain children and to find engaging things to do with them, whether it was visiting tourist attractions in Pittsburgh or sponsoring a seed-spitting contest off her deck after serving watermelon.

Diane supervised many students in her IUP career, and she hired students to do domestic chores. She didn’t like housework, but she liked working with young people. She was in contact with many of them years later. They sent her notes and pictures of their families

Diane was an active participant in the League of Woman Voters and various university-related groups. Most especially, she was an active Episcopalian. For years, she served on various committees of the Pittsburgh Diocese and was the diocesan representative of Episcopal Relief and Development. At Christ Church, she was noted for preparing food for various occasions, such as Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday. When Christ Church considered buying and reconditioning a replacement organ, Diane was an enthusiastic supporter and funder. Unfortunately, she never got to hear the organ you are hearing today except on the Web. A dedicatory recital had been postponed by COVID. She complained that the organ sounded bad on Facebook. I assured her that it sounded much better in the church.

Diane’s generosity was prodigious but was pursued quietly. She gave money to her family for various purposes, donated to women political candidates, and supported both Christ Church and Episcopal Relief and Development. I sent $25 to Amnesty International to help Ukraine and suggested that she, too, might contribute to the Ukrainian cause. She immediately wrote a thousand-dollar check to Episcopal Relief and Development for the purpose.

Diane had a temper, and it could be quite frightening. Her anger quickly dissipated, however, and it was as though it never was. Perhaps the angriest I ever saw her was in the hospital after her kidneys had finally failed and her messed-up blood chemistry caused her to be delusional. Diane was convinced that Fr. Bill and I, dressed in tuxedos, had made her the butt of jokes at a party. She hated us with a vengeance for that.

Her sanity returned, but she needed dialysis three times a week for the rest of her life.

Diane’s heritage was English and Swedish, a background that made her a somewhat bland cook. Her culinary repertoire was further circumscribed by some passionate dislikes: pickles, olives, peppers of any kind, herbs and spices she had not grown up with. On the other hand, she liked Swedish cheese and sausage, herring, and, I am told, lutefisk. For legitimate health concerns, she avoided tomatoes (well, mostly), alcohol, and shrimp. Diane was an excellent and imaginative baker of cookies, however. Because I had grown up in New Orleans, when I began cooking for the two of us, meal planning became tricky. She thought of me as a gourmet cook, but this was only relative. I did get her to eat gumbo once.

In her retirement, Diane hoped to travel the world, but her mobility issues made that impossible. Although she transitioned from cane to walker to wheelchair, the two of us were able to take various car trips. We traveled for the Episcopal Church and for her interests and mine. She even won a Caribbean cruise and was determined to take advantage of it. She took no shore excursions, but she rented a scooter and scooted about the ship on her own. We both ate well.

Diane tolerated the years of dialysis well, but she seemed to wind down in her final months. One morning, a few weeks ago, she was not doing well, though it was not completely clear why. Her student helper, a personal care assistant, and I decided that it was time for Diane to go to the hospital. From IRMC, she was quickly transferred to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Diane was treated there for weeks and was never to come home again.

I will miss her, and many others will also.


Diane Duntley
Diane Duntley (a recent photo made for
a church directory)

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