Diana Gilliland Wright April 19, 1943 – April 1, 2022 Diana Gilliland Wright died on April 1, 2022, at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her daughters and her books. Passionate, brilliant, and reliably infuriating to those around her, she lived with a spirit of exploration and great curiosity.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama to the Reverend William McKinley Gilliland, a pastor, and Dr. Martha Jordan Gilliland, a surgeon, Diana spent most of her childhood in Ogbomosho, Nigeria, where her parents served as missionaries.
Diana attended Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and was a member of Wake Forest’s 1963 College Bowl team. She also became involved in the civil rights movement, her first experience of activism and protest. During the North Carolina years she met William Connelly, a journalist; they were married in 1963 and divorced in 1975. Together, they had three daughters, Irene, Kathleen, and Rosalind, whom they raised in Washington, DC in a house filled with books, music, and a rotating cast of pets. She was a committed and gregarious antiwar activist during this time, and involved in the Democratic Party, always learning from her beloved friends Liz Abernethy and Julia Clones.
In 1977, Diana followed her heart and impulses to Greece, taking her daughters to live in the town of Nafplion, in the Peloponnese, for two-plus complicated, exciting years. She went for the classics and the ocean; she discovered the Venetians and the Byzantines, and she was home.
She returned to school in her fifties, earning a PhD in medieval Greek studies from the Catholic University of America. A Byzantinist, she also taught courses in Greek mythology (and one dedicated entirely to The Odyssey) at the New School for Social Research and the University of Washington. With John R. Melville-Jones, Diana translated and edited The Greek Correspondence of Bartolomeo Minio (two volumes, published in 2008 and 2015) as part of the Archivio del Litorale Adriatico. Harvard’s Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, was among the great loves of her life.
Diana’s second marriage, to Eric Hanson, ended in divorce. In 1987 she met Christopher Wright, and they married the following year, loving and caring for each other until his death in 1989. Following her years in graduate school and adventures in adjuncting in New York, Diana moved to Seattle in 2003 to spend twelve very happy years with Pierre MacKay who, with his late wife Theo, had been a family friend since a chance meeting in Nafplion in the 1970s. Pierre and Diana shared innumerable interests, and collaborated on projects ranging from a garden and beehive in Seattle to studies of Venetian Greece. Pierre died in 2015.
As she struggled with depression, loss, and years of chronic, debilitating pain, Diana often quoted T. H. White’s Merlin: “The best thing for being sad . . . is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.” Also, she believed it was critically important to “keep your knives sharp.” Not metaphor—she meant actual knives. She herself preferred a nice whetstone. But this is a wonderful expression of the spirit she embodied. Pay attention, value the discomfort of growth, and keep learning things. Speak up where you witness injustice.
She is survived by her daughters, Irene Connelly; Kathleen Connelly (Sean Tubridy); and Rosalind Lee (Michael); her grandchildren Alice Tubridy, Senan Tubridy, and Ryan Lee; and brother, Reverend Peter Gilliland (Patsy); and by an extended family that includes her stepchildren Ann Hanson, Malcolm Wright, Diana S. Wright, Camilla MacKay, Alexandra MacKay, and their families; William and Nancy Connelly; and Khawar Rizvi.
Memorial contributions may be made to Khora-athens.org or House of Ruth (houseofRuth.org)
The following remembrance was written by Mark L. Lawall of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens
Date: Wed, Apr 20, 2022 at 11:46 AM
Subject: [ascsa_alumni] Diana Gilliland Wright
I learned today the sad news that Diana Gilliland Wright died on April 1, 2022. An historian of 15th century Greece, Diana held an NEH fellowship at the School in 2008-9 and was a dear friend to many in our community.
Diana spent much of her childhood in Ogbomosho, Nigeria where her mother was a surgeon and her father was a Southern Baptist missionary. She earned her BA at Wake Forest in 1963, and in the late 1970s moved to Nauplion, attracted in part by an interest in the Classical world (her mother had taught her Latin). While there, however, Diana became interested in Nauplion after antiquity; and later at Dumbarton Oaks, she learned of Bartolomeo Minio, a 15th-century Venetian administrator, whose life she would come to know in greatest depth. She completed her PhD thesis at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. on Minio’s dispatches, in 1999.
After completing her dissertation, she embarked on a path of prolific, detailed, and uniquely personal scholarship. Her own life, with so many moves and long periods living in foreign – yet much beloved – lands, gave her a particular empathy for Minio. On the event of the publication of The Greek Correspondence of Bartolomeo Minio. Vol. 2: Dispacci from Candia 1500-1502, she wrote of the letters:
They were intensely familiar, of course because of Nauplion, where my house had been attached to the wall he had built, but also because I had grown up in a colonial environment. Minio’s constant fatigue and frustration at lack of adequate equipment and money, his isolation, his increasing identification with the local population, all reflected what I had absorbed in my younger years from the adults around me. I found something else, too: the sense of a desperately lonely child… (http://surprisedbytime.blogspot.com/2015/05/a-book-on-which-i-have-been-working-far.html
Diana’s blog, surprisedbytime.blogspot.com, is full of poetically narrated vignettes of the 15th century, of Nauplion in the late 1970s, and of her own life. From 2003 to 2015, Diana lived in Seattle with an equally sensitive historian of Greece and friend to many at the American School, Pierre MacKay. She loved the garden, the birds it attracted – especially the crows. Her last blog entries, written from Washington D.C., describe a fascinating connection between living in the Washington area in the early 1970s, in a house marked as friendly to hobos, back to her grandparents in Alabama during the Depression, and back further still to her great-great-grandfather’s slaves. Diana was deeply attuned to her place in the flow of history.
I offer deepest condolences to Diana’s daughters Irene, Kathleen and Rosalind, who grew up in their mother’s adventures, and to all of Diana’s family, friends and colleagues.