In Memory of Diann Waterbury Graeber ’68

06/08/1946 – 10/17/2019

Diann revered the written word, from Shakespeare to the Bible, the poetry of Billy Collins to the barroom wit of Billy Joel. She rooted for the underdog, except on Derby Day. She believed in speaking truth to power and standing up to bullies big and small. And she was also unafraid to address the unspeakable, whether that meant helping a dear friend navigate a fresh diagnosis or bravely healing a horrifying local tragedy through a gaspingly forthright editorial in the community paper. Diann worked hard as an educator, a manager, an advocate, supporter and volunteer. She was the family grammarian and the keeper of manners and formalities, not because they were fancy, but because she believed they gave our lives grace and continuity. And she was smart, a born debater with skills that left many of us wondering why she’d walked away from her acceptance to law school. But then Diann was often difficult to figure: an intensely sensitive soul who projected confidence and toughness, an intensely private woman who deeply felt the solitary nature of existence but could connect with anyone in a grocery store or soup kitchen. We watched Diann shy away from the sort of social gatherings others find easy and fun, but walk calmly into the difficult stuff most of us fear and avoid, to help a person she’d just met through a crisis of sickness or despair.

She delighted in nature, but greeted the prospect of “camping” with a long silent stare that dared you to ask twice. She loved jokes but struggled adorably and quite literally for years, to master one through to the punchline. She was a deeply spiritual, in the sense of remembering to fill the birdfeeder, just in case her father came back to visit as a cardinal, which he definitely would, every day. And despite being deeply invested in the importance of maintaining the family history for the next generation, stuffing the family bible with immaculate cursive notes on 17th century immigrant namesakes and homesteading Iowan ancestors, Revolutionary War surgeon grandpeople and her dad’s early life in New Orleans and various family farms between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Diann felt that her own life history somehow didn’t count.

On her death, her family was instructed to skip the usual list of accomplishments and memberships and who begat whoms, announce that “Diann was here, and she left,” and leave it at that. And while we honor her memory, we cannot honor that request. The truth was vitally, essentially, stubbornly important to Diann, but she often didn’t give that truth to herself, and sometimes at great personal expense. And what’s true is that the contradictions are part of our memory, and part of what made her beloved to so many around the country, from her native Iowa to her longtime Connecticut home, from those who once gathered in her hydrangea garden on Nantucket to her newer neighbors in Southwest Florida. Those contradictions also happen to make Diann especially difficult to summarize in an obituary.

Now those contradictions will be puzzled over by those she leaves behind: the handsome motorcycle riding boy whose pet name for Diann was “Iowan”, and the man who, after 51 years of marriage, still does, Dr. Charles W. Graeber; her sons Charlie and Matthew and their spouses Gabrielle Allen and Jana Graeber; her grandchild Thomas, to whom she was “Baba”; her sister Jane and husband George Maciel, her aunt Anne Gillespie, and a gaggle of beloved nieces and nephews, cousins, friends and admirers. We will remember a woman who could be fierce in her love, and whom we fiercely loved. We also remember that Diann taught us how to correctly use the word “whom”. She will be missed mightily. The morning that Diann left us, the morning papers reported that a rare bird had been spotted nearby, a yellow cardinal, one in a million. We will keep our feeders stocked with black oil seed and milk duds, and watch the skies.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 at Christ Church in Harwich Port, MA. Details, as well as an invitation to add remembrance and celebration will be posted on Diann beat cancer, and knew firsthand the importance of research and great patient care, so in lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


At Ripon College, Diann studied English.


Read Diann’s obituary here.