Our Loving, Gorgeous Mother
She was born Wylena Diane Hammond, in Bronx, New York on January 18, 1943 to Josephine and Wiley Hammond. Her parents provided a happy childhood for Diane and her sisters, helping her to become a strong woman with quick wit, clear opinions, and abiding love.
She was educated in the New York School System while growing up in Yonkers. She played basketball and volleyball, served as a volunteer lifeguard, and was a conscientious student throughout her primary and secondary education. Upon high school graduation in 1960, she moved to Xenia, Ohio to study Sociology at Central State University. Diane pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1962 and graduated with honors in 1964.
Diane married Reverend Willis C. Thomas Jr in November 1965, and shortly thereafter became First Lady of the newly started Canaan Missionary Baptist Church. Having grown up as an Episcopalian in New York, it wasn’t easy finding her fit, understanding the norms and making her way in this new world, while working full time. She grew to love the church but never became churchy. This is where she was first affectionately nicknamed, “Lady Di”.
Willis and Diane welcomed three children to their union, Talmadge J’von in 1966, Illya Torrance in 1970 and Tegitra Kareem in 1972. Numerous families within Canaan rallied to support their growing First Family. Diane developed rich and life-long relationships during this time, with some who served as friends and mentors later becoming her extended spiritual family. This community remained connected when Pastor Thomas moved the family to Wichita, Kansas in 1973, and when Diane moved to Durham, North Carolina with the boys in 1976, welcoming her back to Dayton in 1985.
Diane was gifted, called and equipped as a teacher. She wasn’t one to tell from a distance but instead would engage and show up close, modeling and participating to demonstrate how things were to be done. She did this in formal roles as a teacher’s aide in the Durham city school system, as a Social Worker in Dayton schools and at Daybreak social service agency. Diane further developed her gift, earning a Masters Degree in Sociology from the University of Dayton in 1993. She modeled this even after retiring and moving to Cincinnati, as a part of the Zion Global Ministries’ Awana program–where she met new friends who helped the city feel like home. She could often be heard saying, “come here, let me show you.”
Diane wanted the best for her people and for us to represent the race with dignity. She mentioned many times that her mother termed her “the little revolutionary”, and claimed she and her sisters refused to ride the back of a bus before Rosa Parks. She believed in doing all things “decent and in order”. She understood the significance of Barack Obama becoming president, and was outraged that Michelle wore a sleeveless dress, debating it for hours at Thanksgiving, because that was NOT appropriate for a president’s wife. We argued. We laughed. We learned.
She was a strong cup of tea. Lipton, her favorite, with lots of lemon juice and 4 to 6 sugars. Diane was honest and genuine, yet not disparaging, having learned as a child that she could say almost anything as long as she started with, “Daddy I don’t mean any disrespect….” She’d often begin a highly caffeinated input with, “Well listen” or “I’m not tryna tell you what to do”. Her candor mixed with charm and compassion, endeared younger women to her and she welcomed their inquiries. She loved to be with people, and to share her inputs as a benefit to them.
She fully loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She told herself that if God gave her children they would know every day of their lives that she loved them. She expressed her abiding and powerful love regularly, by stating clear expectations regarding how to honor the Thomas name, screaming on the sidelines at soccer and basketball games, teaching them to snap peas or plant flowers, listening with full acceptance to convey that nothing could disqualify them from her love, and saying amen as she heard them preach while either sitting in the pews or streaming a service online. Diane was present. She wanted them to see her…hear her…know her. They do.
In December 1988 Diane became deathly ill. Her entire family was summoned to Dayton because she wasn’t expected to see Christmas. She saw that one and 32 more, winning an often daily fight with Addison’s disease, and later congestive heart failure. It was frustrating at times and she never rested well with the pokes, prodding and loud talking in the hospital.
In the early morning of March 27th, having loved, taught, and given all, she received her final rest. Diane leaves behind cherished memories and a legacy that will live on through her sons, her aunt, multiple cousins, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and extended spiritual family. We now put into practice what we have seen, heard and experienced in her.
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