Diane Edith Smith: Mother. Arts patron. Lifelong learner. Volunteer. Born Oct. 22, 1943, in Montreal; died May 5, 2023, in Toronto, from complications of COVID-19; aged 79.
Diane didn’t meet her father until she was 2, just in time for Christmas in 1945 after he returned from the Second World War. Although Diane’s Mom grew up mostly in Montreal and her father was from rural Laird, Sask., the family of three set up roots close to a family friend in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto.
While she was always a curious and eager learner, Diane struggled in high school, mostly due to health issues and an undiagnosed learning disability. She left school at 15 to start working full-time.
She was proud to be working full-time but was driven to continue her education and obtained her high school diploma through night school.
Diane married in 1971 and gave birth to two boys; Nathaniel and Jeffrey. Like many women of her era, there was pressure to stay home and assume the significant demands of raising a family.
Once the boys were old enough, she returned to the workforce but more importantly, Diane never lost the drive to continue learning. While balancing a career and her family, she enrolled in night school at York University’s Glendon College and after years of tireless study, completed a degree in English, graduating in 1989.
The juggling act was tough, however. When her sons didn’t listen, Diane – given her petite stature – reached for a wooden rolling pin to emphasize her point. While she never used it, chasing the boys around the house was not uncommon. These moments were balanced by more traditional uses of the rolling pin, including making homemade modelling clay or teaching her boys how to roll out the perfect pie crust.
Diane was in her early 50s when, following an amicable divorce, she finished raising her youngest son on her own, working a series of unstable and inconsistent jobs to make ends meet and to put him through university. When she could afford the tickets, Diane enjoyed attending the Toronto Symphony, the AGO and the McMichael art gallery. And Diane found ways to pursue her passions outside of work. She took what she learned from the challenges of her education by volunteering with United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College) where for nearly a decade she tutored students and ran workshops for adults with learning disabilities. She received a Volunteer Service Award for this work in 2000.
In 2010, she retired from an administrative role at Nesbitt Burns. Now an empty-nester with time on her hands, she discovered Toronto’s Academy of Lifelong Learning and started to enroll in courses to further study literature, arts, science and technology.
While attending a spring talk at the Academy, Diane met Bill. The two struck up a conversation and made plans to meet again. They had many common interests, including a passion for the arts and a desire to travel. Bill and Diane enjoyed trips to Scotland, England and Portugal as well as throughout Western and Atlantic Canada. They spent winters and summers cottaging in Ontario. They spent winters and summers cottaging in Ontario and attended the Shaw and Stratford festivals.
Anyone who met Diane would always remark at how positive, happy and energetic she was; constantly beaming with a smile; often greeting friends with fresh-baked muffins or cookies. She loved hosting her friends for tea at her apartment or making holiday dinners. But they learned not to ask her what movies she’d seen: Diane always gave a detailed summary. By the end of her lengthy retelling, there was no reason to see the movie!
Diane was not done living and not done learning when her bout with COVID transitioned to pneumonia. The day before she was hospitalized, Diane attended an art class at the McMichael, pursuant to the to-do list she left behind on her kitchen counter, which detailed a number of tasks and objectives for the day, including: “learn to draw using pastels.”
Jeff Smith is Diane Smith’s son.
To submit a Lives Lived: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide