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Diana Gilliland Wright's Online Memorial Photo

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Memorial Biography

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 schools including the New School for Social Research, NYU, and Georgetown University.

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)