Diana Edith Newbery, PhD 1954-2019

Diana Newbery in Venice
Diana in the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, Venice


Diana Edith Newbery (née Bennett) PhD, born 9th of September 1954, died the early hours of the 8th of December 2019 after a long coexistence with muscular dystrophy and bone marrow failure. 

Much loved wife, mother and friend of Michael, Mark, Andrew, and Arna. Cherished sister and sister-in-law of Sylvia and Bob Cavanagh, and Prue and Simon Cooke-Willis. Beloved daughter of Beverley and Peter (deceased). Inspirational aunt to Louise, Martin, Julia, and Frances. Diana and the family extend their thanks to the medical professionals who helped her, with particular thanks to Kenepuru day ward staff for their unfailing support. We would also like to thank donors of O+ blood for their generous gift.


Michael Newbery (Husband)

It’s hard to tell a life in a few minutes; it would take more than a lifetime to properly describe a single life well lived!

Given the impossibility of the task, especially for Diana, let us nevertheless begin.

Diana was: pretty, intelligent, quick, curious, funny, kind, witty, amazingly sexy.

Diana was also intensely private. An introvert who poured herself out for her friends.

Diana loved beauty, good design, goodness, kindness, accuracy, knowledge and laughter.

I once told her that I loved her self confidence. She retorted that she was not in any way self-confident, but would admit to “bloody mindedness” (her words), or stubbornness if you prefer.

She almost never wore makeup or scent. She didn’t think she was pretty (objective evidence to the contrary).

She loved, and bought, nice clothes because she loved beauty, not because she was trying to make herself look pretty.

Diana loved animals and was good with them. She would have made a great vet, but chose another path. She did her PhD on “The Karyotypes of Galaxioid Fishes” (That’s whitebait, among others by the way). After several years of trying methods that did not work—the techniques that work for mammal chromosomes didn’t work for fish—she finally found one that did. Her thesis wrote up all the things that didn’t work, much to the delight of her external examiner (the world expert in the field. She described it as like “being marked by God”). Her love of plain talk was evidenced in the thesis: many researchers, when they have to kill an animal, call it “sacrificing”. On the rare occasions she had to kill a fish (mostly she just took a tissue sample—the fish were hard to get and no way could she afford the loss of one) she wrote it up as such. She also explicitly wished you to note that she has “died”. She has not “passed away”, she has not “passed”. She said that’s bad zoology.

The people she touched loved her and valued her. When we started going out I noticed that I kept getting the “are you good enough for our Didee” hard stare from her friends. And her cat. Apparently I passed muster.

Diana described herself as a scientist and an artist. She was intensely interested in the world; in history, including archaeology, biology, genetics, medicine, space, ecology and lots, lots more. But also beauty, in art, music and literature. She was an avid reader: of science fiction & fantasy, historical novels and steampunk, whodunits and thrillers, biographies and cookbooks.

Diana was a designer, and a maker. She learned enamelling, welding, and wood-turning. She took up silver jewellery and made amazing stuff, then moved on to painting, and dyeing, and paper making, and silk painting and picture framing and so many other things. She was working in acrylics and surrounded by her work when she suffered her stroke.

She became interested in genealogy, and got me interested too, and now has thousands of people in her family tree, with the meticulous care of a trained researcher and scientist. She often complained of sloppy genealogists co-opting people from her tree where she KNEW the link was wrong, or putting poor quality information up.

She rode a motorcycle, and was associated with the Vincent Owners Club, despite never owning or even riding (as far as I know) a Vincent. Since we both rode them, we went on honeymoon on our motorcycles. Diana eventually traded up to a BMW, while I retained my lowly Suzuki. When we started a family, and Diana found it difficult to ride with a bulge (Andrew), I ‘inherited’ the use of that BMW, which I still ride to this day, and have been and am proud to say that I ride Diana’s motorcycle.
She was also a good car driver, and while far from being a petrol-head, liked a responsive car, with good tyres (a lesson from riding a motorcycle).

She loved music: folk music and classical, pop, prog-rock and more. When we married, our record collections had a huge amount of overlap, especially the folk section. She played the flute, until the dystrophy made that impossible. She also had a lovely singing voice.

Diana loved food, and cooking, and recipes, and bread-making. She said she taught a succession of flatmates basic cooking skills out of self-defence. For many years, she made the communion bread for St Barnabas, so people could have ‘proper’, fresh bread rather than wafers.
We both love cheese, and we used to go out on a Friday night and try different cheeses, which we rated and kept a record of in a notebook. Only two cheeses ever rated 5 stars (a Stilton and a Gorgonzola). We gave at least one cheese a negative star rating. Similarly, we tried single shots of various liqueurs (two a week, half each) to discover which we liked and did not. Fortunately our tastes in cheese and liqueurs matched.
Later, when her IBS made things tricky, she of course researched to find out what she COULD eat. When she discovered that it wasn’t gluten but wheat that was a problem for her, she experimented with different flours for bread. Then, when she discovered that sourdough’s slow fermentation eliminates the problematic FODMAP sugars, we were both delighted, and she took to making her own sourdough.

A huge amount of stuff in St Barnabas is directly from Diana. Not just the art, but also the practical things she adored, like designing and making the platform that hangs from the ceiling, and the board that holds the name tags.

She loved gadgets, and tools, as long as they were good quality and useful.She was good at auctions and often found great things there. We both loved power tools, and our idea of the toyshop was a hardware store. We couldn’t find an appropriate modern drawer handle for our bedroom drawers, so she arranged to have a nice old one copied by a brass foundry. She loved DIY, including plastering, which she got good at. Unlike me, she had great hand-eye coordination, and could put a draughtsman’s mapping pen back together without breaking it.

While not herself a sporty person, Diana enjoyed watching golf and tennis, although she never played golf and only played tennis when she was young. She did do fencing at college (poking people with things, not digging holes).

She loved gardens, and gardening until she found it physically too much. She was particularly good at knowing how tall things would grow and where to plant them so they would look right when mature, and otherwise designing gardens. She loved flowers, she would take them from the garden, and latterly she would buy a bunch to brighten the house.

Diana had a wonderful sense of humour, and loved comedy, especially Flanders and Swann, the Goons, Monty Python and clever humour, along with Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbs and Leunig.

She loved photography, but not being in the picture! She said that one of the benefits of taking pictures was to avoid being in them. As you’d expect, she became increasingly good at it, and would carefully compose shots, and discard all but the right one. Early on, she taught me the most important part of photography—which was to take the picture! I have never forgotten that lesson.

She was joyfully involved in the church, practically helping, on PowerPoint, getting the radio mics working, as parish recorder, as vicar’s warden, on the board of Box Hill Close Trust, wherever she could help. She was active in the Diocese doing strategic administration, archiving, fundraising, statistics, data visualisation and analysis, photography, art and in so many other ways. When it got too exhausting and she decided to retire, the Diocese awarded her the Bishop’s Medal for her services.

We both hated moving house, so after marrying in December, we lived in Diana’s flat, then went house hunting, and took vacant possession of 35 Crofton Road on April Fool’s day (as Diana put it) a little under 4 months later. And there we have stayed. When we were bidding on the house, we had a top price—and a secret little bit more, which was otherwise earmarked for upgrading the stereo. As it turned out, we didn’t have to break into the emergency reserve and duly upgraded the stereo, with the speakers that are with us yet.
Over the years, we remodelled the house and changed things extensively, always with Diana’s meticulous planning and great feel for design, especially in the garden.

It was Diana’s nature to help out and get involved throughout her life. She helped at Ngaio School, went on the board there, and then became involved with the School Trustees Association as newsletter editor. She had a number of hard things to say about the quality of the text she had to edit into acceptable form.

She loved Wellington, the hills and the greenery, and especially the sea. She loved the beach and the sea in all its moods—and she loved poking about in rock pools. A few weeks ago, she said that she loved being where she was, and wouldn’t want to move. She enjoyed thunder and lightning, and it is entirely appropriate that the heavens put on a show for her on her last weekend.

She loved the bush, and rivers and streams, and she loved Kuratau—the peacefulness and the beauty. She enjoyed kayaking on the lake when she still could, and she always was thinking of how to remodel and improve.

She loved nature, but was especially fond of butterflies, frogs, owls, dragons and dragonflies. Our cats loved her.

Diana was more of a digital native than most of us. Despite eschewing “social media”, she kept her life organised with her phone: when to take pills; when to pay bills; when to meet friends; when to do exercises; when to research things. So many things, so many categories, so many notes. Diana stayed in control of her life, while having absolutely no interest in controlling other peoples’, though she did express frustration with others’ disorganisation at times.

Diana was cheerful, and optimistic, and made the best of things, and expected and hoped those around her would do the same. And being around her, you tended to do just that. Diana never gave up, her will power was amazing, but she was nevertheless prepared. That was who she was.

Diana was not defined by her ailments. She coexisted with muscular dystrophy and bone marrow failure, they were a part of her life and she lived life fully and joyfully.

Diana loved and was loved by her family: First by Bev & Pete and her grandparents and aunts, then her younger sisters; her husband, parents-in law, Joan, her nieces and nephews and her beloved sons, and now Arna. Diana was a happy person, who brought joy to those close to her.

Diana Newbery, Scotland, photographing heather
Diana in Scotland, photographing heather

Mark Newbery (younger son)

People say never meet your heroes, but that was difficult because I grew up with her. Thankfully it has never been a problem. Mum had a drive and curiosity that will inspire me for the rest of my life. For her there was always some new thing to learn, a new angle to pursue, a new medium to explore. She achieved a great many things in her life both for herself and for others.

Even with everything she was working on, mum was always looking out for us. She made sure we had the support we needed when we were sick, injured, or struggling, and she guided us to be good people who do what needs doing. I would not be half the person I am today without her.

Mum was also forever finding interesting things and sharing her discoveries with us. She had a lasting curiosity about the world and the many things that make it up. It was always a joy finding a new message about recent discoveries in palaeontology, genetics, medicine, or one of many other topics. Likewise with gadgets, art projects, and objects with interesting or beautiful patterns. From the grand to the subtle, there was, and is, always something to appreciate in the world.

Diana Newbery, Glastonbury Tor
Diana at Glastonbury Tor

Andrew Newbery (elder son)

Mark and Dad have already said some wonderful things about mum. I echo their words, but would also like to say a few of my own.

Firstly I want to thank everyone who has called, written, visited, sent flowers or food, and particularly I want to thank all of you who took the time to be here today. 

In moments of grief, these acts of kindness remind us of the compassion and love that surrounds mum, and all of us. On behalf of our whanau: thank you from the very bottom of our hearts. Words can’t do justice to what it all means to us. 

Even mum, after she got over the embarrassment of having so many people make a fuss over her, would be blown away.

As we go through the service today, you should know that mum pretty much planned the whole thing herself. She’d picked a bunch of hymns and readings. She’d left notes on where she’d like any donations to go. She wanted to make sure that everything was sorted out. 

As dad said, it’s impossible to sum a person up in a couple of lines. Even the three of us talking about different sides of her could never encapsulate the incredible person that she was. 

The closest we can get, without her here to tell her own story, is to reflect on the shared experience we all had with her – whether we knew her our whole lives, or for only a short while. All of our experiences with her, the small moments of love and friendship, might just begin to touch on the multifaceted, talented, intelligent, loving, generous, persevering individual that was my mum.

I wanted to focus on that last bit about perseverance for a moment. Mum wouldn’t have wanted me to focus on her illness (that would have been making a fuss), but I think it’s important to know that she was dealt some pretty appalling cards when it came to her health.

Despite that, mum never wanted pity. She barely wanted help! Even an offer to help out around the house was something I had to push for in the last few years. She didn’t ever want people to make a fuss or feel burdened. We never were – we were happy to give even just a little bit back to such an incredible person.

The reason I talk about mum’s perseverance is because I think it shows just how dedicated she was to getting the most out of life. Mum’s been sick longer than I’ve been alive, and yet she found the time and energy to work across the community and voluntary sector on our school board, providing IT services to that same school almost singlehandedly, working with her local church to the point where this whole room is filled with things she designed, created or arranged. 

She was a talented artist who could out draw almost anyone. When I was a kid, she would “help” me paint my model aeroplanes (a lot of it was just her)! She learned how to forge silver jewellery, designing and making pieces for her friends and family. She was a keen gardener, and knew pretty much any plant or animal by sight. If I was ever at a loss about what something was, 9 times out of 10 she’d immediately know. She was a talented and inquisitive cook, and we would often talk about recipes or techniques. I could go on and on – but the core point is that she never let anything get in the way of learning something, or applying herself to a new skill. If I should come to learn even a fraction of the skills and knowledge that she did, I should consider my life well lived.

When we were going through mum’s notes on the day she died, we came across a comment she’d put in her advance directive planning. In response to the question of what she wanted her family to know and remember there was a comment right at the top of the page “make the most of your lives xxxxxx”. 

I’d like to put that out to all of you today. If mum wanted anything it was that the people she loved would revel in life – in all of its ups and downs, its joy, confusion and sadness. To live as she did is to be honest with everyone, to never turn down a challenge, to never stop learning, and to be emotionally available for the people you love. If we all managed to do that, the world could be a pretty incredible place. 

Diana Newbery relaxing at the bach
Diana relaxing at the bach
Letter from Bishop Justin
Letter from Bishop Justin Duckworth which was read at the service.