Tribute: Diana Riley

  |  Published: May 1st 2007
diana riley

It is difficult to know where to start when trying to encapsulate the life of our mother, Dr Diana Margaret Riley (née Dean), who died aged 77 on 1 April 2007 after a long battle with cancer.

She was a dedicated and innovative consultant psychiatrist working within the NHS, instituting some of the earliest mother and baby units in the country, as well as one of the first dedicated pre-senile dementia units, in the Aylesbury Vale and High Wycombe health districts. She was also a founder member of the Marcé Society (international society for the understanding, prevention and treatment of mental illness related to child bearing). Intellectually rigorous, with a broad general knowledge base, a keen theatre-goer and avid reader, she became a particularly valued member of a village quiz team in later life, winning in 2003. But she was also someone who enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a rambunctious family around her: six children of her own and always at least two or three of our friends or other extras. A vibrant and beautiful woman right to the end of her life, she was a beguiling hostess who was able to make others feel welcome and valued. Her artistic side found expression especially in her silversmithing (she was proud to have her own registered hallmark).

Diana was brought up in a deprived area of London, and started her medical training at University College London in 1947, just as the NHS was born. It was here that she met her future husband, Colin; they trained together and married in 1954, the start of over half a century of partnership that recently celebrated the birth of a twelfth grandchild (and even noisier family gatherings).

She often told us and newly qualified doctors of her acquaintance - with some pride - that her first month's salary after qualifying was just £9 for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Next came spells in Casualty and General Practice, which she somehow shoehorned in between 1956 and 1960 while producing a child a year. From 1960 to 1964, she was the Civilian Medical Practitioner to Royal Air Force families at Halton, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; and then until 1970 worked as Assistant Medical Officer on child health clinics within Buckinghamshire County Council (finding time for a further two babies).

But she never lost her appetite for learning, so when the opportunity presented, she retrained in psychiatry within the Married Women's Retraining Scheme, obtaining her MRCPsych in 1974 and her Fellowship in 1984. It was in psychiatry that she found her niche, with a special interest and expertise in peripartum mental health, and especially post-natal depression. Appointed Consultant in Obstetric Liaison Psychiatry at University College Hospital, she also worked on drug addiction in pregnancy. She researched and published widely in the field, including books for both health professionals and lay readers.

Ever energetic and resourceful, she continued right to the end to relish her work and the professional and personal contacts it afforded her.

Diana was an exceptional woman and managed everything in her own inimitable style - even down to her death, peacefully at home. Family flew in from Edinburgh, Munich, New York and Gibraltar, as well as from nearer home, and she had time for us all. She touched many lives and the world is the poorer without her.
Teresa, Clare, Christopher, Jo, Lucy and Lizzie

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