Even while she was fighting an aggressive form of cancer, Diane Reed, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity in Long Beach, inspirational teacher of children and community leader, had a smile on her face.
“She was so brave, courageous and positive in the face of this ugly beast,” her daughter Robin Reed Riggle wrote in a eulogy she is going to deliver at her mother’s memorial service this Saturday, Jan. 26.
After a 2 1⁄2-year struggle with a rare form of abdominal cancer, Reed died at home Nov. 28 at age 79, according to David Reed, her husband of 60 years, who said he was her 24/7 caregiver through her ordeal and was “privileged to keep her at home and to cuddle her in her final hours.”
Linda Kimberly, chairwoman of Las Hermanas, an auxiliary of the Assistance League of Long Beach, praised Reed for her constant calm and supportive demeanor even in difficult times.
“She quickly became one of the people you would always want to work with, or just be around,” Kimberly said. That sentiment was echoed by many friends and supporters, one of whom, Debra Barrad, of Last Hermanas, called Reed “an angel on earth.”
“When she was installed as chair of Las Hermanas, her theme was angels and she gave each one of us an angel,” Barrad said. “It fit her so well. She always had her arms and wings open to everyone.”
Raised in Mt. Baldy
Diane Lynne Pruitt Reed was born Oct. 27, 1939, in Pasadena but her family moved to Mt. Baldy where she was raised. She graduated from Chaffey High in Ontario in 1956 and Chaffey College in 1958. She and her future husband met in college where their lockers were next to each other.
“We were friends for a year before we started dating. A year later, we got married and it lasted 60 years,” David Reed said.
The Reeds started the Long Beach chapter of Habitat for Humanity “right in their living room and recently celebrated building over 1,000 homes with ‘sweat equity’ and volunteers enabling very low-income families to become homeowners.”
David Reed, then senior pastor of First Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach, said Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat International, was a friend and he asked Fuller to be a guest speaker at the church.
“He (Fuller) met Diane in that visit and eventually asked her to serve on his International Advisory Board,” Reed said. At the time, there was an active Habitat affiliate in Orange County but none in Los Angeles County. The Reeds eventually started the Habitat affiliate in Long Beach in 1990.
“We built our first house a year later. Our group then became the Greater Los Angeles affiliate, now the third largest affiliate in the United States,” Reed said.
Diane Reed’s first teaching job was in Mt. Baldy, but she spent more than 25 years teaching first graders in the Long Beach area, first at Roosevelt Elementary for two years and then more than 25 years at Signal Hill Elementary.
Reed’s daughter said her mother was a patient and kind teacher.
“Since I was born before she was a teacher and being the oldest of three, I suppose I was her first student,” she said. “She let us learn by curiosity, fun, discovery, exploration, reading, imagination and adventure.”
She also remembers how her mother taught her children how to learn things on their own.
“One time when I was 9, my mom had made all kinds of things for the kitchen on her sewing machine — curtains, tablecloths, pads, you name it,” her daughter said. “She still had miles of fabric left and asked if I wanted to learn how to sew. I jumped at the chance. She showed me her sewing machine and said, ‘This if forward. This is backward. Yell if you need help.’”
After retiring as a school teacher, Diane joined the Assistance League and helped out wherever she could.
One of the activities she enjoyed the most was being a star puppeteer for the Kids on the Block program designed to develop positive attitudes about issues of social concern.
“Diane’s life-sized puppet was Jason, and she brought him to third and fourth graders and talked to them about alternatives to violence,” Barrad said. “She was so great with those kids with her teaching skills and her loving personality.”
With Las Hermanas, Diane led the group’s Assault Survivor Kits program, which provides emergency essentials to survivors of sexual assault.
With all of her activities, Diane developed hundreds of friends, “an amazing garden of life-long friends,” according to her daughter. “This was not in the social butterfly, popularity contest sort of way,” her daughter said.
“She was a friend in the truest sense of the word–someone you could sit down and share a cup of tea and conversation with, someone who would listen and actually hear with her heart.”
In addition to her community activities, Diane loved poetry, reading books, watching movies, listening to jazz and dancing, both ballroom and square dancing. David said they did ballroom dancing at the Catalina Island New Year’s Ball for more than 30 years and square danced for more than 25 years.
Asked what motivated his wife throughout her life, David said, “She simply wanted to help make the world a better place.”
Survivors include her husband David; daughters Robin Riggle (Alan) and Cathy Wolfe (Kayne); son Michael; sister, Paula Carter (Fred) and three grandchildren, Ashley Riggle; and Willow and River Reed.
Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Bay Shore Church, 5100 The Toledo in Long Beach and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Village Church in Mt. Baldy.