A funeral service was held at the Maclean Uniting Church on Friday last week to celebrate the life of RSL stalwart and ‘2017 Clarence Valley Citizen of the Year’ Diane Lee, who passed away on Tuesday September 24, at the age of 92.
Florence (Diane) Indianne Hardy was born at Manly in 1926 and grew up in the northern Sydney suburb of Seaforth.
When World War II broke out in 1939, a young Diane enlisted at the age of 17, however was discharged for making a mis-statement of age, on her enlistment papers.
Diane successfully re-enlisted once she turned 18 and began training as a nurse and worked at several base hospitals; Rathmines, Tocumwal, Adelaide and Concord.
When the war ended, Diane continued on nursing.
In 1951 Diane married and after surviving a plane crash into the ocean off Swansea during their honeymoon, the couple went on to have four children within six years.
Their marriage however, was not a happy one, with Diane suffering abuse for many years, before ending it 26 years later.
In an interview with The Independent in 2017, Diane said that she waited until her last child had finished high school and then left her husband.
“There were no refuges for women back then, so we stayed where I worked at a hospice in Seaforth for the next 18 months,” Diane said.
Diane spent several years after that on her own; her years of living in an abusive marriage had served as a deterrent, from forming another relationship.
Around the age of 50 however, after a blind date organised by a friend of hers, Diane met Barry.
“Barry (Lee) was a sweet man and we eventually moved (from Sydney) to a farm at Townsend in the mid 1980’s; growing and producing everything ourselves,” said Diane.
During this time Diane had many interests; cake decorating, embroidery, macramé, making her own greeting cards, folk art and entering a lot of produce at the Maclean Show; winning many awards.
Diane said that the couple had lived together for 11 years before she ‘decided to make an honest man out of him’ and get married.
The couple enjoyed a happy and hard working life together, until Barry’s untimely death in 1996, just prior to his 70th birthday.
Both of Diane’s husbands had been members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force [BCOF] and both died of cancer, from being exposed to radiation.
Diane was left a war widow and Legacy came to her aid. She joined other war widows in the Laurel Club.
She used her training in massage and reflexology and became a volunteer at the Maclean Hospital working on the patient’s feet and visiting the Legacy widows in hospital.
In 2000, Diane began getting involved in RSL ‘welfare stuff’ – as she put it and her involvement grew from there.
She attended all kinds of courses for veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs, including post-traumatic stress, which gave her a different perspective on how these veterans thought, simply by listening to them.
She also started writing a church service for Legacy, which was something that she continued to do during Legacy Week each year.
All of her experiences led her to becoming a ‘welfare officer’ with the RSL and Legacy; a job which she took very seriously.
In her role as a welfare officer, she visited around 40 legacy women and veterans at home and hospital as well as visiting the lower river aged care facilities of Mareeba, the Whiddon Village in Maclean and Caroona in Yamba.
In August 2016, Diane retired as president of the Laurel Club in Maclean, after 18 years.
Her years of hard work within the community were finally recognised on 5 January 2017, when Diane took out the ‘Citizen of the Year’ at the Clarence Valley Council Australia Day awards dinner.
Diane received the award for her service as a ‘Welfare Officer’ for the RSL and for her selfless work with veterans and war widows.
At the time, Diane said that it was a great honour to be chosen as ‘Citizen of the Year’ and that she would continue with her welfare work for as long as she could – a job which she carried out, until three months ago.
Diane loved what she did; visiting veterans and listening to their stories and said that if she could make them laugh or smile, then she’d done pretty good.
When asked what her secret was to a happy and long life, Diane replied, “I put it down to attitude.”
“You have to follow your heart and, you’ve got to think young,” she said.