Calleson, teacher, friend, courageous pilgrim, dies too soon

August 23, 2014

A celebration of life for Diane Calleson will be held Saturday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m., at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough, N.C.

Jerry Calleson writes:

We will begin in the sanctuary for a time of sharing and remembrance and then move next door to the Ruffin House to mingle informally. At around 4 p.m., we will move down the road to the Ayr Mount estate to walk a celebratory loop around Diane’s beloved Poet’s Walk (about one mile). Please feel free to come for any part of the gathering, and please dress comfortably.

St. Matthew’s is located at 210 St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough. There is a small parking lot behind the church adjacent to Board of Education parking lot. You also may park in the Board of Education parking lot (at the end of E. King Street), along the gravel road adjacent to Cameron Park School, or in the Cameron Park School parking lot.

Map and directions

The following obituary appears on the Hall-Wynne website, where friends and colleagues may send online condolences to Dr. Calleson’s family.

Dr. Diane Calleson

Dr. Diane Calleson

Diane Marie Coucoulas Calleson died on August 15, 2014, after eight inspiring years of living with a rare form of ovarian cancer. She was 49 years old. Despite knowing that the cancer was always with her, Diane threw herself into exploring and expressing all the wonders she found in being alive each day. Everyone who knew her felt her exuberance, joy, courage and strength.

Diane was born and raised in New Jersey and traveled south to attend Duke University, where she met her future husband, Jerry, 30 years ago. After graduation, she taught middle-school sciences for a few years, got married, and eventually returned to North Carolina to earn her doctorate at N.C. State University and set down roots. New Jersey never quite left her, though, and she would laugh every time she said or did something that seemed to her a bit “unsouthern,” saying “That’s the New Jersey girl in me.”

Diane was a clinical associate professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, where she was a gifted mentor to many students during her almost 15 years at UNC. She had a sharp mind and an eye for details and organization that her students appreciated, but her greatest strength was the joy she found in meeting informally with students, listening to their stories and sharing hers, connecting practical studies with the larger task of composing a life and living with passion. Just prior to her last recurrence of cancer, Diane had been preparing to embark for Fogo Island, Newfoundland, to pursue research as a Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a National Geographic Society grant.

Diane loved to walk, swim and be outdoors. Even while she was undergoing cancer treatments, she never stopped working to keep her body and spirit healthy and strong. She loved her town of Hillsborough and would set off on many mornings for a four- or five-mile stroll, or head over to the Poet’s Walk or the Occoneechee Speedway if she wanted to enjoy the trees and the Eno River.

She also loved to travel and explore new landscapes, always on foot. Newfoundland, Iceland, Patagonia, Turkey, Corsica and Scotland were some of her favorite places. At home, she loved her garden and found great joy in things as simple as laying down new mulch each spring or digging up the soil for a new plant. She loved quiet and time alone to take in the beauty around her and the feelings inside, and at times, she would express those things in words and images. Most of all, she loved just being with her dearest companion and husband of 25 years, and with her family and friends, all of whom were blessed by her presence, her joy and her frequent quirky expressions of pure pleasure in life’s simplest experiences.

She is survived by her husband, Jerry Calleson, of Hillsborough; her parents, Alexander and Marie Coucoulas, of Chapel Hill; and her sister Andrea Knight, nephew Alexander Knight, and niece Ann Marie Knight, also of Chapel Hill.

A celebratory memorial is being planned for September 20. Donations in her memory can be made to The Duke Gynecologic Cancer Research Program, Duke University Medical Center, Box 3079, Durham, NC 27710. Friends also may contribute to Diane’s team at the annual Ovarian Cancer Awareness Walk by following the “Donate” link at  and searching for the “Keep on Walking” team. All are welcome to join the walk, as well.

Read a feature about Dr. Calleson’s journey with cancer in Carolina Public Health magazine (Spring 2009).

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or