When Diane Clehane–a mover-shaker extraordinaire–died at the end of February at age 61, more than a gasp of sorrow went up in the community she created. That community was an intersection of fashion, media folk, royal watchers and fans, and connoisseurs of good television. We lost this generous, funny, classy woman, who was sometimes a delightful over-sharer, to what her husband Jim Donovan simply said was “an illness.”
With her deep background as an reporter, journalist, and publicist, Diane authored five books and was well-known for her enthusiastic interviews of authors and other doers in her long-running column “Wednesdays at Michael’s,” referring to the midtown Manhattan restaurant frequented by the publishing elite. (NextTribe founder Jeannie Ralston once got the special Diane treatment; see photo above.) She had been knowledgeably obsessed with Princess Diana and reported authoritatively on the British Royal Family. Her writing on entertainment, including this piece about Downton Abbey in NextTribe, was always incisive. She gave discerning critiques and grades of A to D to episodes of programs and had recently award The Gilded Age a B-.
Everyone knew of her fierce, joyous love for her teenage daughter Madeline. They were always doing something super-feminine, creative, and glam, and she appropriately named her media company Madeline Communications. Her activist anger at anti-Asian discrimination (Madeline was adopted as a baby from China) was loud and clear. As was her love for her husband Jim. Their garden in Greenwich, their trips to Kennebunkport, his anniversary-given jewels to her: all of this exuded a perfect-proper-life glow, wonderfully in contrast to her real life honesty and workaholism.
Continuing the Salon
I did not know this much-loved woman awfully well so I write this tribute with cautious respect. I knew her mainly from a mass of gossipy Facebook PMs and conversations we shared, and from three or four lunches at Michael’s, after each of which she graciously promoted a book of mine in her media column. “Column coming soon,” she would write, after posting a photo on social media. No matter the guest she was with, the pose was almost identical; she clasped one arm over the other on the table, her head was slightly cocked, and her smile was high wattage.
Perhaps to contrast that elegant discipline of hers, she seemed to, quite charmingly, overdo the sense that she was rattled–checking the train schedules back to Greenwich; sighing with a fatigued-newswoman air as she copied down the map of important people at each table in Micheal’s. (She always worked the other diners into her column.) After our last lunch she wrote me several exasperated emails, saying the column’s server was down, darn it! She kept trying and finally posted the column. Thank you, Diane!
Since her passing, many of her Facebook and IRL friends have weighed in on her vibrance, elegance, and significance; one, Lisa dePaulo, made the greatly agreed-with remark that Diane’s Facebook page was like a salon. In fact, her husband Jim just recently wrote of his decision to keep her page open as just that–a salon. “Inform. Educate. Entertain. Laugh. Cry. Share,” he wrote. “And, in particular, do what Diane was so very good at. Befriend. Reach out to others on this page you may not know. He or she may be your newest lunch date. Diane would really love that.”