This eulogy was given by Nick Brown at Diana Dee's funeral on March 9, 2022. It is shared here with Nick Brown's generous permission.


Leila Diana Dee, by Nick Brown


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For a long time when I was young I diligently wrote thank you letters to Diana for her gifts at Christmas and Birthdays – she was a model godmother - addressing them to ‘Miss L Diana Dee’. I think I wondered about the mystery of the ‘L’, enjoyed the oddity of it without feeling the need to find out what it stood for, but imagining there was a story behind it that would emerge in good time. 

The ’L’ being ‘Leila’ was revealed to me some time ago – a name that I still struggle to associate with the familiar, alliterative “Diana Dee” – but it’s only more recently that I’ve understood what it meant within her family and how it connects to something at the heart of her life. 

So while Diana herself may not have had much time for it as a name, I now know that the Caldecott Foundation – for which she had enormous time – had as its founder LEILA Rendel, and that Diana’s father John, to whom Leila Rendel became both guardian and godmother, was one of the first children to benefit from her vision that there should be better support for children disadvantaged by the circumstances of their birth. 


Her name aside, as a child I found Diana intriguing. Apparently untethered by immediate family (although I subsequently realise just how long she spent caring for her mother), and certainly – most importantly at my age – not burdened by children, she struck a different kind of pose – tall, a bit angular physically and sometimes in her manner, outwardly clearly a grown-up but underneath that a sense of the mischievous, a willingness to laugh at herself and other grown-ups. This I found fascinating. And whilst our meetings were irregular and sometimes infrequent, she was there for those formal milestone moments in my life – christening, confirmation and marriage. More important though, we early on established our shared love of sweet things, particularly marzipan, high quality bars of which arrived at Christmas each year and sustained me through – I was going to lie and say ‘the dark winter months’, but truthfully just to Boxing Day.


It's an odd thing that we often find out more about someone after they’ve died, and the stories that they either didn’t tell or we never sought to discover during their life. Like the ‘L’ in her name, I had picked up little bits of information from my Mum, Rosemary, or from Diana herself, but never had to piece it altogether until now. I’m grateful to her, Elaine Smallwood and Gill Cook from the Caldecott Association for fleshing this out. A few words like his can never do justice to a life, and certainly not Diana’s. But I know now that she was born in Hull in 1936 to John – who worked on the railways - and Marjorie Dietl. I know that John, when he joined the army, was advised – like others – to change his name to something less Germanic-sounding, and assume that he’d either recently visited a river that rises in the Scottish Cairngorms, or perhaps simply suffered from a massive failure of imagination and, much to the chagrin of his wife, returned from the registrar having simply changed Dietl to Dee.


Whilst the newly minted John Dee was serving in the Second World War, Diana, her brother Christopher and her mother spent these years at the Caldecott Community – at this point in Dorset - the two children attending their primary school and Marjorie working there. I can only imagine that, with her father’s deep connection to it, the Community felt more like a home with his presence than anywhere else could have at that time.


After the war I now know that the family moved to Broadstairs for Christopher’s health. Here Mrs Dee started a guesthouse, Diana attended a grammar school in Ramsgate and competed for Kent in the high jump. John returned to working on the railways before Christopher sadly died in 1948 in a tragic accident. 

Diana, surely as whip-smart then as she remained, was interested in becoming an architect. I don’t know what derailed that particular ambition – it would have perhaps just been seen as such a bold and possibly outlandish one at the time – but instead she studied Institutional Management at Berridge House in London. Like any road taken there were upsides – she met my Mum, and so she would never have been in her or my life had that not happened.


That she returned to Caldecott in the late 1950s, which conveniently seemed to have followed her around the country and was now based at Mersham-le-Hatch in Kent, only serves to show how much that organisation felt like home to her. Gill, who was a child there at the time, vividly remembers Diana’s youthful presence in the kitchen as a breath of fresh air and how she and her friends would find a way to appear to be helping out in the kitchen by grabbing a pot or drying up cloth, in order to be allowed to stay there with her. 


A couple of years later she and my Mum, both single and no doubt drunk on the spirit of adventure as the post war world morphed into the 1960s, emigrated to Canada, spending a year in Toronto, travelling on to Calgary and then to work in the School of Fine Arts in Banff (cooking rather than painting of course, although cooking – as we know – is a fine art itself). Onto Vancouver and then a boat home via Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia to the more prosaic sounding Tilbury Docks in East London. 


Back in the UK a less peripatetic, settled life took shape and senior management positions at Homerton College, Cambridge, Garnett College in Roehampton and finally – and most rewardingly – Heathermount in Ascot, a London County Council college for boys from disadvantaged homes not dissimilar to Caldecott. 


I know now that she retired relatively early to help her mother Marjorie look after her father during a long illness prior to his death, and that then she and her mother settled into a happy routine at 27 Harrow Dene, one which continued beyond Marjorie passing away in 2008, and included horticulture, the arts, annual visits to the Chelsea Flower Show, much travelling – that particular passion had never left her and she flew transatlantic on Concorde – Bridge, extremely (I’m told and can imagine) competitive quizzing and, perhaps most importantly, wrapping bars of marzipan to send to me for any remotely celebratory event. 


Here at home she was a long standing member of St Peters and Broadstairs Horticultural Society; Elaine describes a vivid image of her as Treasurer, a role she occupied for over 30 years until her death, standing greeting members at the door, ostensibly with a laugh and smile but really ready to relieve them of their annual subscriptions.


Wherever she went during her life it seems to me that she found ways to create a family, of Caldecott children who loved her sense of childlike fun, students away from their own homes, or fellow flower aficionados – “friendship through flowers” is the motto of a floral arranging group she belonged to for many years…I’d almost want to amend it to “family through flowers”. She was generous to a fault – the cheques she sent both my brothers and I when we were growing up often had one more zero on than anyone else’s ever did - and many of you will know, or have read in the Order of Service, about her endowing a Fund at Caldecott to support children there with limited means. It says all you need to know about her that she really had to have her arm twisted by Gill to agree that it should be called The Diana Dee Fund.


This seems to me to be as fitting an epitaph as any and brings us back to Caldecott, which has clearly benefitted – like all of us – from all the best things about Leila Diana Dee – generosity with modesty, a deep empathy for and understanding of those less fortunate that most of us, sharp observation of life’s absurdities and willingness to laugh at every opportunity. 


I’m relatively new to these kind of occasions, but the irony I suspect always is that there are words we say that we’d probably like the person we are here for to hear. Maybe she will. But anyway these are not just mine - others have contributed – and I hope you feel they speak for us all.


Thank you.


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Diana Dee, 1936-2022