2013-01-24 / Obituaries

Diana Lanier Smith

Diana Lanier Smith, of Jamestown, passed away on Jan. 22, 2013, in North Branford, Conn., after a brief illness. She was 90 years old.

Diana was born in New York City to the late Reginald Bishop Lanier and Helen Cameron Lanier, and grew up in New York, New Jersey and Newport. She graduated from Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Penn., and Barnard College in New York in 1945. Following World War II, Diana was an editorial assistant at the New York Herald Tribune. She married William Ogden Ross in 1947, moved to New Haven, Conn., and together they had three sons: Donald Ogden Ross of Newport, Philip Lanier Ross of North Haven, Conn., and Stuart Cameron Ross of Katonah, N.Y.

While in New Haven, Diana worked for several years at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History where she was director of public relations and editor of the Peabody Museum Magazine. She was also a long-time member of the New Haven Lawn Club and the Garden Club of New Haven, as well as the Society of Colonial Dames. She was also a lifelong member of the Spouting Rock Beach Association of Newport.

Following a divorce from Mr. Ross, Diana married Karl Beckwith Smith Jr. in 1973, and together they lived in Jamestown and in Sanibel, Fla., until Mr. Smith passed away in 2006. In recent years, Diana divided her time between Jamestown and the retirement community of Evergreen Woods in North Branford.

From her early 20s, Diana was plagued by an increasingly debilitating hearing disorder, but she was always able to exercise her intellectual curiosity and passion for understanding her ancestry and their contributions to American history. She served on the board of trustees of the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison, Ind., which was built by her great-greatgrandfather, James F.D. Lanier, a 19th century American financier to major railroad companies of the period, and founder in the 1840s of Winslow, Lanier & Co., the first modern investment banking firm in the United States. She was instrumental in creating the visitors center at the Indiana site, as well as many other contributions during her multiyear tenure on the board.

Diana spent many years researching the life of her greatgrandfather, Heber Reginald Bishop, a major patron of the arts and sciences in New York City. She played a central role in restoring the Bishop Jades, considered the finest collection of Chinese jade in the world, to prominent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Diana also was a long-time student of Native American cultures, particularly those of the American Southwest. She assembled a noted collection of Navajo weavings and pottery, and in 2004, endowed a scholarship for undergraduates of Native American descent at her alma mater Barnard College that has so far supported six students with their continuing studies.

From her earliest days she was a competitive sailor, winning numerous races as a girl at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport in her Cape Cod Nimblit sloop Minnie Mouse. She later continued her enthusiasm for sailing at the Conanicut Yacht Club in Jamestown where she avidly competed in her sloops Bluenose and Sapphire. She was also noted for her solo kayak trip of 22 miles on the Connecticut River in October 1971 at the age of 49.

Diana also loved gardening at her houses in New Haven, Jamestown and Sanibel, and served as the gardening columnist for the Jamestown Press from 1989 to 1992. During that time she was also horticultural chairwoman for the Jamestown Garden Club.

She leaves her three sons, three stepchildren: Karl B. Smith III of Charleston, S.C., Barbara S. Desilets of Wayne, Penn., and Beverly S. Zimmer of Phoenix, Ariz., as well as seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her brothers Charles Lanier and James F.D. Lanier III.

Diana will be interred alongside her parents in the Lanier family plot in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y. A memorial service is planned for June in Jamestown. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Diana Lanier Smith ’45 Scholarship Fund at Barnard College.

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