It is with heavy hearts that the family of Diane Machado Wilks shares the news of her passing on December 3, 2022 in Salida, Colorado. Words, though an inadequate tool upon which to rely to express all the facets of this most inspirational woman, must suffice as the place-marker for her extraordinary life.
Diane Alane was born the fifth daughter of Theodore and Bernardine (née Palazzo) Machado in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 17, 1941. After graduating from high school, she married John Demoran, Jr. of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in 1961. They had three daughters: Paige Alane, Stacy Lyn, and Angela Leigh. John and Diane’s marriage ended in divorce shortly before John’s death at the age of thirty-seven years.
Diane and her daughters were a close-knit family, and Diane’s intrepid spirit provided her girls with memorable experiences – summers on the Bay, fun vacations, camping trips, fishing, crawfishing, crabbing, and forays around New Orleans. She often included cousins and friends on their adventures, as her heart was a big as the ocean is deep.
After her divorce, Diane worked tirelessly to provide for her daughters. She pursued her first career in the legal field as a legal secretary then as a paralegal. She worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, which was a good fit for her charitable spirit. She always championed civil rights, children’s rights, and human rights in general, and always tried to be the voice of the voiceless. At the ACLU, she met the love of her life, Dale Charles Wilks, an attorney whose big heart matched her own. They married in New Orleans on Christmas Eve in 1975, and Diane became stepmom to Dale’s two sons, Michael Christopher and Jon Elliot.
Anyone who ever knew Diane remembers her as the best memory-maker. She saw life as an adventure, and she spent her youth taking her children and stepchildren on an incredible journey. Diane didn’t sit on the sidelines of their childhood – she was an active participant in all their endeavors, freely sharing her time and herself with her children. She kept the family close by doing fun things like weekly skating outings at the Big 8 Skate on Jefferson Highway, ski trips from the Smokeys to the Rockies, weekend trips to their home in Kentwood, and taekwondo lessons with her daughters where she worked her way up to brown belt. Halloween was her favorite holiday and one of their happiest memories is the parties that Diane hosted in Kentwood dressed as the lovable and gentle witch Minerva. Of course, these parties included all of her children’s friends, cousins, and neighbors. Her home was always open to anyone, and she made everyone feel welcome wherever she was. Traveling was Diane’s favorite thing to do, and she never missed the opportunity to hop a plane, train, or boat to explore the world. She traveled extensively throughout the United States, Mexico, Central America, and Europe, gathering friends along the way. She had quite a collection of them by the time she passed.
Diane’s family grew with the addition of her sons-in-law and her granddaughters: Stacy’s husband Norman Allbritton, Jr. and their daughter Jillian Marie; and Paige’s husband Reinaldo Varea, Jr. and her daughter Ashley Alane Greenwood (from her first marriage to Charles Greenwood) and their daughter Alane Jena Varea. Being the girls’ Nana was her most cherished role. Her granddaughters remember fondly the trips to Waveland where she taught them to bake bread, swimming in Lake Pontchartrain with her, climbing oak trees in City Park, and playing on her sailboat Me and Machado. She always had time for her granddaughters and considered them the light of her life.
After a twenty-year career working alongside Dale in his private practice law office, Diane continued her education and attended Houston Marine in New Orleans where she earned her captain’s license for vessels up to 100 tons. She started her second career when she became a captain of the Destin Harbor water taxi in Destin, Florida – an all-women operation – and eventually that of her and Dale’s sailing vessel Sea Sister. She and Dale embarked on their next quest in 1994, sailing the Gulf of Mexico where they explored coastal Mexico and Central America with her daughter Angela and Angela’s husband. Diane and Dale settled on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala where they became Harbor Masters at the Mango Marina and where they chartered travelers on Sea Sister, their forty-seven-foot sailing vessel.It was there on the river where Diane earned the sobriquet “Queenie,” and her husband and friends called her by this moniker ever after.
When Diane and Dale returned to the United States in 2000, they settled in Breckenridge, Colorado where she and Dale started their third career at Guest Services for Breckenridge Ski Resort. She included her children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren – Ashley’s children Caydin Chavez, Paris Aliyah, and Niya Lauryn, and Jillian’s daughter Joséphine Margueritte – on her many new adventures around the Rocky Mountains. Diane taught the next generation how to seize life by doing everything with them from the exciting (skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, kayaking, and hiking) to the simple (exploring towns and monuments, finding rocks, swimming, and enjoying the view from her terrace). They feel very blessed that she shared herself and her zest for life with them.
After Diane and Dale retired from the resort, they settled on a small lake in Westcliffe, Colorado. Always open to those in need, Diane tutored immigrants who were English-language learners until she became too ill to continue. Only sickness could prevent her from extending a hand to those in need, but even a debilitating illness could not stop her from sharing her love with her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. After a courageous battle with pulmonary fibrosis, Diane passed peacefully with Dale by her side in Salida, Colorado.
Those who were fortunate enough to know her, never forgot her, such was the indelible mark that she left on every soul. These are a few words that her family wants to share about her:
“Queenie was my love and my best friend. We were happy and content just being together.” (Dale)
“Mama was so strong – she worked hard to provide for us, but she also played hard, too, and took us on the best family vacations.” (Paige)
“Mama was like the air. You need the air to survive, but you can’t hold onto it. You have to breathe and let it fill your lungs, your essence, and then you have to exhale and let it go to wherever its destiny lies. To hold onto it would kill it. To hold onto it would burst your own soul, even if it’s what your soul wants. So, you let it go to be the wind that it is and enjoy the breeze caressing your being.” (Stacy)
“I still haven’t realized that she is not here, except when I want to share with her everything that she has made possible for me. She had unwavering strength, a wanderlust spirit, and undying love, and she shared all that she was with me so that I could live my dreams, too.” (Angela)
“Nana was the best listener. She always knew the right thing to say to validate and shelter my feelings without judgment.” (Jillian)
“Nana was my biggest supporter, my hero, my guide through life. She taught me so much about life and helped me become the strong woman and mother that I am today.” (Ashley)
“I loved Diane because I knew how much she loved my dad.” (Michael)
“I always admired how Diane took such good care of MawMaw [Diane’s mother].” (Jon)
“My favorite thing to do with Nana was hang out at the hot springs.” (Caydin)
“The best memories I have of Nana are going to the park and pool and having picnics afterward. I am going to miss all the good times we had together, even when we were at home just spending time with each other.” (Paris)
“I loved kayaking with Nana, and I remember the first time we saw her kayaking. It was so fun seeing her go off in the water. We were so happy just swimming with her.” (Niya)
“Nana makes funny faces with me, and she wears pink rabbit ears. Nana is Halloween. I love her.” (Joséphine)
Diane Machado Wilks was a unique combination of strength, compassion, courage, and unbridled love. She embodied her belief that a life lived deliberately is a life lived richly. She was Diane, Mama, Nana, Queenie, and she is sorely missed by all who were loved by her and who had the privilege of loving her in return.
There will be a private celebration of her life and legacy in the spring of 2023. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation be made in Diane’s memory to a cause close to her heart – St. Jude’s Children Hospital.