Diana Forsythe

Date of Birth

November 11th, 1947

Date of Death

August 14th, 1997

Memorial Meeting

Palo Alto Friends Meeting


Diana Elizabeth Forsythe drowned 35 miles from the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska on August 14th, 1997.  She was a member of a small group of hikers who were crossing the Sadlerochit River when she lost her footing.  The news of her sudden death came with great sadness to all who knew and loved her.   She was 49 years old, in excellent health and at the height of her career at the time of the accident.  Words can never fully express how the loss of her presence among us will be felt.

Diana was born in Santa Monica, California on November 11, 1947 to George and Alexandra Forsythe.  Both her parents were pioneers in Computer Science and both were Quakers.  George founded the Computer Science department at Stanford University and a building on campus is named in his honor.  George was a member of the Providence, Rhode Island Friends Meeting at the time of his death in 1972.  Alexandra transferred her membership from Providence to Palo Alto  on April 20, 1975 and died here in 1980.  Diana has one older brother, Warren , born in 1944 in Washington, D.C. who currently lives in Ellensburg, Washington with his wife, Kay and two children.

Diana's family moved to Palo Alto in 1957. Diana attended Jordan Junior High and Palo Alto High School before entering Swarthmore College, her parents' alma mater, where she earned a BA in Anthropology & Sociology in 1969.  She then studied at Cornell University, where she received a PhD in Cultural Anthropology & Social Demography in 1974. She did post-doctoral work at various universities in Europe including Cologne, Germany; Aberdeen, Scotland; Oxford, England; and Bielefeld, Germany.  She researched urban-rural migration in the Orkney Islands and questions of German identity before returning to Stanford with a visiting scholarship in anthropology in 1986-87  and a post-doctoral fellowship in the Knowledge Systems Laboratory of the Computer Science Deparartment in 1987-88.

When her Artificial Intelligence lab, under Bruce Buchanan moved from Stanford to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1988, she became a Research Scientist and then Research Associate Professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.

She returned to Stanford in July, 1994 and was a visiting scholar in the program of Science, Technology and Society for one year and a Systems Development Foundation Fellow and visiting scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics in 1995-96.  During that felowship she began an oral history project on the experiences of women in computer science.  She used her mother's career as an example.  In July, 1994 she also became an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Medical Antropology program at University of California at San Francisco. Her work there has focused on information needs in medicine, medical software development, the role of social science in technology design, and women's issues in technology.

She was the author of three 3 books and nearly 3 dozen journal articles, book chapters and other publications. She was actively involved in several industrial and academic research projects at the time of her death.  Her book titles are: Escape to fulfillment: urban-rural migration and the future of a small island community - 1974, Urban-rural migration, change and conflict in an Orkney island community - 1982, and The Rural community and the small school - 1983.

Some of her other interests included travel, hiking and women's issues.  She volunteered for a women's shelter hotline in Pittsburgh and promoted networks among female professional colleagues. She enjoyed renaissance and baroque music. While still in high school, she played the cello for the California Youth Symphony. She was also a subscriber to the Stanford Lively Arts series.  She loved gardening, mystery novels, bad puns and chocolate in almost any form.

She met her husband, Bern Shen, in 1991 in Pittsburg and married him on March 4th, 1995 on a boat near Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Two previous marriages ended in divorce.

Diana joined the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting on February 9, 1992 and was active with that meeting until she  moved back to Palo Alto in July 1994.  She is very fondly remembered in the Pittsburgh Meeting.  Upon her return to Palo Alto she quickly became active in the life of the Palo Alto Friends Meeting by joining a reading and discussion group, a women's worship/sharing group, a social group called the Friendly Sixes and by attending various potlucks as well as an annual Meeting retreat at Ben Lomond Quaker Center.

She served two years on the Nominating Committee and was the clerk of that committee during the 1995/96 year.  She also served two years  on the Worship and Ministry Committee.  She was especially concerned with guiding newcomers in ways of Friends and by her attention to this concern she added another focus to the work of the Worship and Ministry Committee.  As an outgrowth of  her beliefs she initiated a column in the Meeting newsletter with short items related to Quaker culture.  She often greeted people as they arrived for worship on Sundays and was a contributor to many of the monthly Business Meetings.  Besides her involvement in the life of the Palo Alto Friends Meeting she had also recently completed an Alternatives to Violence  Project workshop held in San Francisco.

She was always soft spoken, but firm in her beliefs.  She rarely contributed to the spoken ministry during worship services, but her presence was warmly felt by all.  Although she very much liked good music, she felt strongly that music was not part of worship and that worship never really began until the early morning singing was finished.  She also felt strongly that it is difficult to settle into worship when people arrive late to the Meeting House.  It was important to her that everyone be present for the entire Meeting for Worship.

Diana loved her work and her friends.  She was a spiritual person who thought deeply about how God wanted to use her.  She will be greatly missed by each of us, but we are comforted by knowing that our lives have been enriched by hers.  In our memories of Diana, we think of all she could have done and could have been had her life not been cut short.