January 8, 1931 – May 19, 2023

Diane Duke Amussen of Merced, California passed away on May 19, 2023 after a brief illness. She is 92 years old.

A third generation New Yorker, she was born in New York City to parents TWD Duke and Dolores Carillo Duke. She spent her childhood in New York City and Long Island. She remained in New York until 1973.

Throughout her life, Ms. Duke Amussen has worked alternately and at times concurrently as editor, community organizer, tenant advocate, nonprofit founder and executive director, and author. Although she officially retired in 1997, she continued to work well into her early 80s.

In 1947, aged 16, she graduated from Brearley School in New York and then attended Swarthmore College, where she met her future husband, Robert Amussen. She left Swarthmore in 1949 to marry Mr Amussen. They have three children, Gretchen, Susan and John. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1963.

Ms. Amussen was always working, starting as a freelance proofreader and then copyediting and editing a growing number of academic books. She was editor of The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh (1958); she was credited as Mrs. Robert Amussen—a slight that irritated her all her life. In 1963, she went to work at the Bollingen Foundation, then at Macmillan as a children’s book editor.

She has a parallel life as a community activist. She started as a PTA at her children’s school, helping to keep schools open during the 1968 New York City teachers’ strike. When a developer attempted to demolish her (rent controlled) building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she organized the tenants of all affected buildings and negotiated a deal with the developer that saved one of the buildings (the Alamo on East 93rd Street) And ensure that elderly residents live in rent-regulated apartments for life.

After negotiations with the developer concluded, she left New York for Minneapolis in 1973, where she worked briefly as a tenant inspector for the developer of Cedar Square West in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis—the The high-rise complex is best known as Mary Tyler Moore’s home later in the series. After leaving Cedar Square West, she completed a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in adult education from the University of Minnesota. She was hired in 1977 as the founding executive director of Emmaus Senior Services in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization that provides the elderly residents of downtown Washington with the services they need. She has also served as Dean of the Laity Cathedral College and the Canon of Washington Cathedral.

In 1997, she semi-retired to Greenport, Long Island, where she wrote a regular column for The Suffolk Times and continued to work as a freelance editor; in her 70s, she converted to Judaism. In 2010, she moved to Merced, California; there she was a member of the Etz Chaim Congregational Church; she served as president of the Merced County League of Women Voters and as a member of the Merced County Libraries Friends Committee.

From an early age, she resonated with those who were different from her and issues of social justice. In 1945, as a relatively affluent white girl, she joined an interracial youth committee. She traveled to Harlem for meetings, but the group also met at her parents’ house, and at age 14 she insisted that black members of the council ride the main elevator at her Park Avenue home, rather than the service elevator. This focus shaped her work as a community organizer and as a person for the rest of her life.

She loves dogs and chocolate and until her last illness remained curious, aware of the world and attentive to the needs of others.

She is survived by daughters Gretchen, who lives in Paris, France, and Susan, who lives in Merced, California. her son John with his wife Andréa Bailey; and her beloved grandsons, Christopher and Sarah, from Los Angeles, California.

The family is grateful to the staff at Park Merced for their care over the years and to Covenant Care Hospice for their care during her final stages of life. Gifts in her honor can be sent to Doctors Without Borders, Heifer International or the Friends of the Merced County Public Library.

This is a paid notice.

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