Diane refers to herself as a “professional volunteer” and is passionate about her work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. After losing her son, Brendan, to suicide in 2010, Diane’s life was forever changed and volunteering to raise awareness and create a culture that’s smart about mental health has helped immensely with her grief journey. Currently, Diane serves on the AFSP Board of Directors for Georgia where she is chairman of the Education Committee. Diane is also on AFSP’s National Loss and Healing Council and is currently the chair of the committee planning a conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss.
After retiring from her career as an educator, Diane reinvented herself as a small business owner. Under the umbrella company of Gillen’s Gifts, Diane and her husband are co-owners of Missing Our Angels and Save My Seat. Missing Our Angels is a labor of love specializing in sympathy and memorial gifts of comfort while Save My Seat is an invention they created that provides a simple solution to an everyday problem. More information can be found at www.gillensgifts.com and www.missingourangels.com
In her free time, Diane enjoys reading, crafting, organizing projects and sharing chips, salsa & margaritas with her husband.
What inspired you or led you to your current career?
I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the minute I was born. I was that kid who organized everyone else in the neighborhood and played school with them. I have a sister who is intellectually disabled so while I was in high school, I volunteered for her special education class. She moved in with us about five years ago so now my husband and I are her primary caregivers.
Most of my adult years were spent teaching at Mountain View Elementary School in Cobb County. I retired after thirty years and they hired me back part-time which was wonderful. After retiring, I got my gifted endorsement. I had been teaching students with learning disabilities, and I also taught some years in fifth grade and third grade. Mountain View did not have a part-time gifted position once I got my endorsement, so I transferred to Keheley Elementary School. Keheley has such a great staff and serves a wonderful community. That’s where I retired from the second time. It took me two attempts before I got it right. [laughs]. I consider myself lucky that I never lost my passion for teaching. It was hard when I retired because being a teacher was my whole identity. I had to completely reinvent myself when I became a small business owner.
Tell me about your business.
My husband and I always wanted to have a business together. It started out by us going to a small business expo where we purchased a special printer that allowed us to print on round objects. Basically, we began with printing on glass ornaments and later tried some things like mini baseball bats and water bottles, things like that. This was all just before I lost my son.
When I lost my son, Brendan, we put the brakes on for quite a while because we needed time to grieve. Eventually, our business morphed into a company that offers memorial and sympathy items. We call them “gifts of comfort”. Later we became involved with the Compassionate Friends, a national organization for parents who have lost a child through any means. Through them, we met a man named Glen Lord and became one of the first vendors on his website, The Grief Toolbox.
What is your favorite restaurant in Woodstock, and what do you love there?
There are so many good restaurants in Woodstock, but our “go-to” is Cancun Mexican Grill. We love Mexican food but the reason I love it there is because of the owner, Ricky Roman. He has many regulars and he makes them all feel like part of the family.
Ricky is also very involved and supportive of the community. For the past three years, he’s held a dine-out night to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
My favorite thing to order is probably the grilled chicken quesadilla with guacamole or refried beans and of course, their fantastic margaritas.
Tell us about your journey with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Like many people who lose someone to suicide, my first experience with AFSP was through the Out of the Darkness walks. At some point, I found out about their memory quilts where you design a quilt block with a photo of the person you lost, so I did that in honor of Brendan. I sent it in but then didn’t hear anything more about it. I decided to reach out and was told that they were looking for someone to organize the program so I decided to take on that role so my son would be a part of the quilt.
Around that time I became a field advocate and have been privileged enough to attend AFSP’s Advocacy Forum in Washington, DC three different times. I later got involved with planning two different conferences for survivors of suicide loss and am currently the chair of the committee planning AFSP’s national conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss. Eventually, I was asked to be on the local board and also to become a member of the national Loss and Healing Council. I’ve met so many strong and brave people on this journey and volunteering has helped me tremendously with my healing. I try to embrace everything I do as a volunteer with AFSP as a way to honor my son’s memory and as a way to continue to “mother” him. Suicide prevention has become my passion – not one that I chose like teaching but rather, one that chose me.
How long have you lived or worked in Woodstock?
We’ve lived in Woodstock for fifteen years. We moved here in 2005 after living in East Cobb, close to Mountain View Elementary School. We live in the Towne Lake area and absolutely love it.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in Woodstock? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Woodstock?
I’d have to say, Carol Klingler, one of my neighbors. Carol is just fascinating to me. She was a hospice nurse and after retiring, she and her husband opened their house and their lives to being foster parents. She’s such a kind, welcoming person and a great role model for how to live life. Recently, she took on the role of being a nanny for a couple who lives in downtown Woodstock. I know that they see her as a blessing – their very own Mary Poppins!
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I’ve never been to California so that’s probably the next place we’ll visit once it’s safe to travel again. We’d like to go to the wine country and drive along the coast. While we’re out there, I think we’d probably try to go to Hawaii because we have not been there either.
What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
I really like romantic comedies and mystery thrillers without the gore. For a sentimental reason, I guess that Far and Away would be one of my favorites because on my first date with my husband we ate Mexican food and saw Far and Away [laughs]. We will be celebrating our 27th anniversary on June 11th.
What advice would you give a crowd of people?
To be kind and to strive to connect with people. Always be open to learning about others, especially if they’re different from you because reaching out could make the world a totally different place. Make it a point to connect with people and see what happens.
What is something on your bucket list?
I am a huge fan of HGTV programs and especially Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. One thing on my bucket list is to go to Waco, Texas, and visit their Magnolia Market. It’s close to Austin, Texas, so I would also like to spend some time there enjoying its music scene.
What is your favorite music/ three bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
For most of my life, I’ve liked all kinds of music; except for country. Then, one day, I was introduced to Sam Hunt and I pretty much only listen to country now – contemporary country. Also, anyone who knows me well knows I am the biggest Lionel Richie fan. I’ve been to a number of his concerts and enjoy watching him on American Idol. His music just speaks to me and it got me through lots of different times in my life, so Lionel Richie is my number one favorite. Lastly, the country group I’m really loving right now is Old Dominion.
What current / former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Woodstock?
The downtown area and the train depot to me exemplifies Woodstock.
Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where in Woodstock would you have lunch?
Brene Brown because I feel like she is so smart but she’s also funny and that’s one thing that I truly appreciate in my life. I need laughter. I think she would enjoy going to Century House Tavern or Ipp’s Pastaria.
What is your favorite thing or something unique about Woodstock?
The small-town feel that there is in downtown Woodstock. I love the amphitheater and the concert series, although I don’t know when that will happen again. It’s just a fun atmosphere, I love going and listening to live music.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
I would just hope that in five to ten years I will continue to be healthy, I will continue to be productive, and that I would still be excited and passionate about trying to make a difference.
(Even for friends or family), what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I am an introvert and I have to really work hard at putting myself out there. As a young girl, I was painfully shy. I can act extroverted when I need to but it takes a lot of energy.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Love of family; feeling supported and safe; peace and contentment.
If you were cast into a major motion picture and had your choice of anyone to be your co-star, who would you choose?
This was a hard one, but I did think of somebody. I decided who I would really like to co-star with is Tom Hanks. He’s extremely talented but also seems like such a good person. I loved him in the role of Mr. Rogers.
If you had a full-time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose? Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
It’s a tough decision between chef and housekeeper but I think that a full-time housekeeper would be my choice. The process of cooking can be fun but I really don’t enjoy the process of cleaning. Cleaning seems like it never ends, although I do love having a clean, orderly house.
The National Foundation for Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1(800) 273-8255