Diana McLellan (1937-2014)

Women of Ward 6

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June’s Woman of Ward 6 is Diana McLellan, a self-described “jolly pariah” whose Washington gossip column the Ear became a puckish, first-read chronicle of social news and intrigue in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The Women of Ward 6 Initiative by the Ward 6 Democrats is a non-partisan recognition of Ward 6’s women, which honors women who have worked or lived in Ward 6 and who have made significant contributions.

Diana Blanche Dicken was born Sept. 22, 1937, in Leicester, England. Her father was a British military officer who became a defense attaché in Washington in 1957, and she accompanied him to the city. Her first marriage to Robin Bull, ended in divorce. She wed Richard X. McLellan, Jr., a professor of history, in 1963.

The British-born McLellan wrote gossip first for the Star, then for the Post and finally at the Washington Times. She mock-lamented the foibles of public officials (“Where are standards?”). She detailed who was going “wok shopping” (getting married) or “expecting more than the mailman” (pregnant).

She didn’t make a fetish of checking out fully every little nugget that came her way. But her mischievous, nonchalant tone made the column a hit as she chronicled the “glamorosos, biggies, the Fairly Devine” of Washington high life. McLellan poked fun at perceived slights. When she was left off a White House party list, she wrote that “Ear’s invitation got lost in the mail, again.”

She once erroneously reported that statesman Dean Acheson had attended a party. In her apology to readers, she wrote that “Ear writhed with anguish to learn that Dean Acheson, who it had listed among Terrifics whooping it up at a divine party recently, is a teensy bit dead, and has been for ages.”

Chuck Conconi, a former editor at the Washingtonian magazine who for seven years wrote a gossip and celebrity column in the Post, described her as “the best of any of us. She wrote a smart, sassy little column that had this effervescence of British humor.” Conconi said McClellan developed a flippant writing style that drew readers into a Washington social orbit that otherwise seemed irrelevant to their lives. “She wasn’t arch, she wasn’t mean, but she was clever.”

She once offered advice for those hoping to stay out of the news: Do whatever you want in August. “August is when congressmen go away and drop one wife and marry another, when people build additions to their houses that other people don’t want built, when shops in Georgetown turn into porno shops,” she wrote. “It is sort of the Mardi Gras of Washington, when everybody gets away with everything.”

In her post-column years, she wrote for magazines, such as Washingtonian and Ladies’ Home Journal. Her books included Ear on Washington; The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood, which explored the lesbian scene in the film capital during the 1930’s and 40’s; and Making Hay, a poetry collection.

McLellan was buried in Congressional Cemetery and her life was celebrated at the cemetery chapel with friends and family reciting poetry and recalling perfect dinners at her home. Jokes flew about her being buried among such famous Washingtonians to get the real stories. At the burial, her spreading a little more dirt around was a quip. Also, as family members placed flowers on the wicker-basket coffin, her daughter Fiona Weeks placed a tube of lipstick on the coffin. The repast was at Mr. Henry’s, one of McLellan’s favorite hangouts.

At the memorial service, Roy Forey, a neighbor of McLellan, read a poem, entitled A Night at Diana’s Table, reprinted here with the author’s permission:

A Night at Diana’s Table

I was lucky enough to dine at Diana’s table.

The invite offered in the most casual terms — “just neighbors and friends and a peasants’ meal” — but it was more than that.

Welcomed and introduced to everyone, no one could ever be on the fringes.

Plied with liquor and opening chatter we were ushered into the dining area.

With candles dribbling hot wax and flickering in the inebriated air, Diana and Dick held court at each end of the table.

Diana disappeared behind the curtains and like Merlin from King Arthur’s court conjured up tureens, filled with wonderful vegetables, beans, and tender meat in a sauce that was always delicious.

Quickly we transformed into a huge debating table, where participants fought for their point of view. Speakers’ corner on octane, Algonquin on Constitution Avenue.

Then, as the wine flowed and some took to liqueurs, others lit up, engulfing us all and sending us in a time machine to the fifties.

On occasion, Edith might be persuaded to play the “old Joanna” and those of us with bigger egos than voices sang the memories of old.

We left Diana’s table without a care.

We were in the moment, and only our beds beckoned.

Of all the tables I have been invited to, Diana’s was the best. Not by an inch – by a mile.

Yes, the guests were great, the diversity, the stories, but it was the master of ceremonies, the conductor, the Air Commodore’s daughter who shone the brightest and made an invitation to her table one you would never turn down.
— Roy Forey

The Women of Ward 6 Initiative is a non-partisan recognition of Ward 6’s women. In partnership with the National Woman’s Party, Capitol Hill Restoration Society and the Hill Rag, the Ward 6 Dems initiative will culminate this year, which is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Marci Hilt grew up on a small-scale grain, poultry and dairy farm in Northwest Ohio. She is a retired communications coordinator and press secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. She currently writes and edits EMMCA MATTERS and is treasurer of the Ward 6 Democrats.