Born in Watertown, Wisconsin, Dianne was the oldest of eight children that Josephine and John McFarland would bring into the world, followed by Jerry, Betty, Linda, Hannah, Monica, Dan, and Laura.
Of growing up on a dairy farm, Dianne fondly recalled riding cows (and eventually horses) and picking asparagus at dawn before school (less fondly). From the McFarland family farm, she took a deep respect for the Earth—and a love for organic food—and from her family, she acquired a streak of stubborn love as broad and all-encompassing as the vast Midwestern plains.
At the University of Wisconsin, Dianne’s studies—as she enjoyed remembering—were bathed in tear gas and protest, and at Rutgers University, she pursued a doctorate in psychology. There she met her husband Richard Bady, and after she brought him back to Wisconsin, their son Aaron was born. It was in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, that her life as an environmental activist began: When an enormous open pit copper mine was planned for her county, she sought out like-minded neighbors and together they organized to demand adequate health and safety regulations.
When she moved to West Virginia with her family, Dianne struggled at first to adapt to the mountains that she would spend the rest of her life fighting to protect. She felt smothered by the hills and lost in the hollers and she was homesick for the great flat of Wisconsin. And then, one day, the mountains began to sing to her, as did the birds and the streams; she began to fill her life with flowers, and, since then, there has never been a day, in season, when she couldn’t see daffodils, hostas, and daylilies from her home, or the ground where she would plant them.
Dianne was always been a gentle soul, with her flowers, her family, and her kitties. But when BASF announced plans to build a hazardous waste incinerator and landfill near Huntington, WV, in Haverhill, Ohio—facilities that would bring toxic waste to the Tri-State region from across the country—Dianne became a warrior. Along with a group of like-minded “living room” activists, she refused to believe that what the region needed was industrial poison, or that the best thing Appalachians could hope for was to be the nation’s trash can. They won, and when the facility was never built, their struggle caught the attention of residents of Kenova, WV, who were suffering from industrial fallout from an Ashland Oil refinery. When she joined them in their effort, and as she traveled the region and listened and learned and studied, she began to see the region as a mosaic of struggles.
In 1987, she formed OVEC, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a group of volunteers and weekend warriors that, over three decades, has grown to a fully-staffed, internationally recognized force for environmental justice, with Dianne at its center: founder, visionary, and leader.
Over the last three decades, OVEC has made it easier to breathe the air in the region, and safer to drink the water. A planned pulp-and-paper mill was never constructed in Apple Grove, WV, and never filled the Ohio River with dioxin and other carcinogens. But OVEC has worked on a host of connected issues, from election reform to clean energy technologies, like solar and wind. In particular, OVEC has worked to slow and control the plague of mountaintop removal coal mining, forcing rogue operations into compliance with the law and helping citizens empower themselves to speak up on the fates of their communities.
In her last years with the organization, Dianne turned her energies to the next fossil fuel frontier, the spider-web of natural gas pipelines slated to crisscross the state. It was her final obsession, and she has bequeathed it to us. Though Dianne suffered from three bouts with cancer in her life, even in her final days, she insisted on seeing a mirror of the struggles of other people. “If the Appalachian Storage Hub is built,” she demanded—with what breath she had left—“how much cancer will be caused by contaminated drinking water?”
Dianne McFarland Bady died after a short illness, but a long struggle. Her final days came much too soon, and we are bereft. But she departed with her friends and family at her side, and her soul was at peace. Although it took an incurable cancer to force her to finally retire, OVEC will continue and nothing can kill Dianne’s vision.
Her family and community6 mourn her loss and honor her memory and legacy. Her beloved dog Holly still waits, at home, for her return.
Note: This first appeared on the website of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.