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Diane Brace as told by her friend Martha Jean Baker

Diane was a life-long teacher. Her career began with a class of 40 seven year olds and she claimed that ‘after that everything was easy.’ She continued teaching in a variety of situations until a week before her death. She came to WILPF in her later years through her pen friend Phyllis Yingling to whom she was introduced by a teacher when they were both teenagers and they became life-long friends.

She was born into a communist Stalinist vegetarian family. As a child she helped her parents distribute leaflets against Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco. She grew into being a life-long Labour supporter and campaigner, with the exception of 2003-2007 when she cancelled her membership in protest of the Iraq war.

She was the first member of her family to attend university where she studied politics with Karl Popper at the LSE. Her classmates included future cabinet ministers and global financiers and also Derrick Brace whom she married and with whom she had two children, George and Catherine.

Diane took a sabbatical from teaching to once again become a student where she took an advanced degree in sociology and politics at Birkbeck College under Sir Bernard Crick.

Her correspondence with Phyllis spanned 73 years and Diane wrote candid and challenging letters to Phyllis. Phyllis reported that she had to begin reading and researching widely to understand and properly reply to Diane’s letters to her. In one letter Diane wrote about her devastation over the death of her son George, recently qualified as an architect, who was run over by an articulated lorry. Diane never fully recovered from his death but supported her grandson Adam, born a few months after George’s death. Many of us know Adam as he has become a playwright.

I first met Diane at a WILPF International Congress. She was there as a guest of her friend Phyllis and those of us from the UK delegation asked her, since she was from the UK, why she was not a WILPF member. She duly joined and threw herself into the activities of the Section. She became membership secretary and visited all the branches and helped set up some now ones. Membership grew under her efforts.

She also set up a serious of Saturday ‘Connect’ sessions, where members new and old could come together and meet and listen to women in diverse roles within WILPF to learn about how it works and how they could become more actively involved. She also was elected Section President – a role she served in briefly.

Diane was appointed by WILPF to be the convenor of the International Personnel Committee, a role that took her to the New York Office to work on some sensitive personnel issues. She travelled on WILPF issues, including personnel ones, to the Geneva Office where she stayed with Edith Ballantyne, the long time treasure of WILPF, former Secretary General and then International President and a mentor and advisor to all who know her.

Through Phyllis, Diane was invited to and attended a US Section Congress in Des Moines Iowa where she made a great impact on the women she met there.

Phyllis and Carroll, her husband, made many visits to London to see Diane and came to see Adam’s first play, to be launched by the National Theatre.

Diane hosted a popular and vibrant seminar, up until a week before her death, with a group who came to her flat to discuss current affairs under the auspices of the University of the Third Age.

Although remaining a WILPF member, Diane threw herself into Labour politics where she became Islington Labour’s Women’s Officer. She was a friend of many of the major Labour leaders and her memorial took place on 8 December 2017 at Islington Town Hall, chaired by her friend and MP Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornbury.

Martha Jean Baker 

(Views expressed in The Blog do not reflect those of WILPF)

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