Obituary – Diane Thomas

November 4, 1957 – April 25, 2015

Diane Thomas (Di) was a beautiful, fit and youthful 57-year-old woman with an almost permanent smile on her face; nothing was ever too much trouble for her. She radiated joy.

On Thursday, April 23, Di left Willesden in London where she lives with her family to travel with, some might say crazy, friends, Sian, Shelagh and Nigel, to Portugal to take part in the second Praia da Luz Triathlon in the Algarve. All were excited to be taking part and also looking forward to a long weekend in a sunny location with Portuguese cuisine.

The Triathlon, which was Di’s first, was on the morning of Saturday, April 25. The swim was the first leg and Di and her friends had entered the shorter Sprint triathlon which has a 750m swim. Di was a very fit and very competent swimmer (cyclist and runner too) who regularly swam in open water, ponds, lakes and the sea, often in winter in the UK, so to be in a beautiful bay in Portugal in mild temperatures was a breeze.

However, about 10 minutes into the swim, Di suddenly and unexpectedly rolled onto her back and lost consciousness. Sian, who is a trained lifeguard and retired London firefighter, was swimming with her and immediately got help from the rescue crews.

Sian initiated CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) on the rescue boat and that continued onto the beach and into the intensive care unit at Portimão Hospital. Despite the best efforts of all those who helped that day, Diane never recovered consciousness. The doctors at the hospital tried their very best but very sadly Di passed away several hours later.

They believed the cause to be neurological but this has yet to be confirmed and the suddenness explained. As you can imagine, all who were with Di or witnessed this incident were massively shocked and overwhelmingly saddened. It’s one of the worse things that can happen.

In all the sorrow that descends when a loved one passes there is some comfort in the small things, things to be grateful for, such as the following;

• Di’s passing was quick and peaceful, she was unaware it was happening, she didn’t suffer.
• Di was doing something she loved, swimming, in a beautiful location with people that loved her.
• Di saw lots of dolphins swimming in the bay that morning.
• The last thing she ate was a pastél de nata on the sea front – one of her most favourite things to eat, amongst many.
• Di had been able to say goodbye to all her family before she left for the Algarve on Thursday April 23 because they were all home, which is not always the case. Kisses and hugs all-round, she was able to express her unconditional love of them.
• When it happened, she wasn’t alone, there was help to hand. Despite being in Portugal, English was spoken, medical professionals attended quickly and there was efficiency and kindness shown.
• The Triathlon organisers were wonderful, caring and patient and did all they could in an awful situation. Especially Donna who drove to the hospital with Di’s friends Sian, Shelagh and Nigel, who were obviously distraught.
• Finally, despite her premature passing, Diane, undisputedly, left a magnificent legacy of living life to the very full and spreading love and kindness. This must be continued by all those who are heartbroken by her death. The quote will be ‘What would Di do?’

Di leaves behind a really wonderful family, her partner of over 30 years, John O’Brien, her daughter Beth (23) and son Tom (21). It goes without saying they are completely devastated. Di was such a huge part of so many people’s lives but for her family she was not only that, she was also their rock. In their grief they are determined to be strong and keep Di’s legacy alive.

Di worked in the NHS for over 40 years, more recently as a senior manager but she started her career as a nurse and midwife. She has spent her whole life helping people, spreading her kind-heartedness. Everyone who met her loved her. She was a compassionate, loving and enthusiastic person, with a huge lust for life. Not only has she left behind her family and friends but also a long list of adventures still to be completed. Her family and friends hope to complete them on her behalf.

Di’s funeral was held on May 15, 2015 and was attended by hundreds of family and friends from all over the world who had come to gather and pay their respects. Lots of grown men, women and children crying unashamedly and paying some really honest and beautiful tributes to their local wonder woman.

It goes without saying that Di will be sorely missed; hers is a huge gap to fill. But even with her loss she is still making an impact. She always supported a good cause and many, many charities, but two in particular were her favoured ones.

Only on the Friday before the Triathlon she ironically said ‘I must find an event to raise money for my favourite charities’. So if there is something positive to come out of this, Di’s passing will help these two charities: St Luke’s Hospice and the Royal Free Hospitals Quiet Cancer Therapy Appeal. The second one researches into the sort of cancer Tom, Di’s son, had but was cured of, five years ago. Here is a link for those interested in also supporting these excellent charities.

Sian Griffiths & Tim Hoy

Photo: From left: Di (right) with friends Sian, Shelagh and Nigel