Diana Gribble at home, September 2011
Prefactory babble: most remarkable
(The eulogy below; skip this preface as you will.) Yesterday, jangling phone, Constant Gardener saying: it’s a terrible line, ring back in five and I’ll get Chong to answer on a better connection. Seeing that I was asleep, reasonable at 7:45 am after a late night, five minutes offered a bare minimum of grace. The reporter prompted and I babbled (on The Book Show) about what it was like working with the legendary publisher* Diana Gribble, (see Michael Heyward’s fine obituary) and about her legacy. It sounds like I have a mouth full of muesli. But it made me want to construct a better shape for those morning thoughts; what I had posted previously seemed too close and intimate to say much about Diana, reading more like a meditation on loss.
But can you confidently say any one person is the most remarkable person you have met? Perhaps if they have the in-your-face force of a world-changing personality — Jesus or Buddha — a certain inherent coercive power, akin to violence, obtains there: a Reality Distortion Field, in the famous description of Steve Jobs’ personality.
Diana Gribble was the polar opposite: she had no desire to impose her will. Without false modesty, she possessed one of the rarer virtues — she had genuinely humility, or we might say that she maintained a fine sense of perspective and proportion; it would never have occurred to her that she was more likely to be right than you were — she recognised what a situational world we shared. On many occassions, in different circumstances, she responded in ways that struck me, or I later realised, as remarkable. And perhaps a sufficient aggregation of those moments justify the sense of most remarkable.**
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Diana, August 2011
Eulogy for Diana Gribble
(13 April 1942 — 4 October 2011)
People come into your life and they change it, they become part of your biography. But a rare few change the person you are. Or perhaps, you change yourself because of their presence; in hers I had the instinct of wanting to be a better person. Diana had the gift of seeing you in the round, with great and sometimes unsettling clarity, and she gave the impression of treating everyone as distinctive individuals — with her, we had our own URLs. And in that generosity she made us conscious of our own uniqueness.
A few weeks ago, I sent her a card daring to ask: What was it all for? I dared, because she was the kind of person who would entertain the question. She said to come see her. We sat and gossiped — (endlessly curious and engaged, she wished she could be here to see who would win next year’s Presidential election) — and eventually we came back to the question. She said: ‘It’s what I believed all along, it’s the quote from The Dean’s December.’ The book by Saul Bellow. She had referred to this many times over the years, and she quoted from it now:
‘This world as you experience it is your direct personal fate.’
It was important to her to see without illusions. I think of it as Diana’s Paradox: to see the world as it is and to accept it … and then her enthusiasms drove her to change what was around her. We could call it a Reality Enhancing Field. The change was to increase interest, and fun, and joy; she was a realist, but not a mere materialist — she had a deep feeling for family and friendship and community.
She departed inexplicably too soon, but the time she shared directly with so many people or through her publishing or business life becomes part of our own personal fates. The last paradox is that even as we have lost her, we bear her away with us. Welcome, Diana.
* “Publisher”: She wouldn’t have objected to being called a publisher but she did once say: “I hate putting people into categories.”
** Another of the very few on my candidate list of most remarkable would, for instance, be my mother.