The Pajaro Valley in Santa Cruz County bid farewell to its beloved daughter on Thursday, March 10th.
Diane Porter Cooley was born on October 15th, 1928, in Oakland, CA and raised on Las Lomas Ranch in nearby Watsonville. The only child of Thomas Bishop Porter of Watsonville and Bernice Huggins Porter of Berkeley, her early life was filled with the beauty of the land, her beloved horse Quita, farming and ranching. Her parents were “Town and Country” people who loved both their country life on the ranch and their vibrant civic life in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties where the Porter Family has played a significant role since 1850. Her father Tom was one of the four founders of Driscoll Berries, a legacy Diane continued her involvement with until her death. She and her husband Don continued leasing farmland to Driscoll growers in the Pajaro Valley long after the Porters stopped growing berries themselves.
Diane attended Watsonville High School before moving on to Stanford University at age 17. She loved her Stanford years and her involvement in leadership and academics, and graduated Cum Laude in 1950, with degrees in Political Science and Economics. While at Stanford, she met her future husband Donald Cooley, a student in the Graduate School of Business, on a blind date skiing in Badger Pass, Yosemite. The spark ignited and their marriage spanned 70 bountiful years.
Together with their two children, Steven Porter Cooley and Anne Easton Cooley, the family enjoyed a rich life in the outdoors skiing, backpacking, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, river rafting and traveling to all seven continents, always in the company of family and friends. The most special times were always those on the ranches, riding horses into the hills, watching the cattle round-up and branding, playing tag in the hay bales, or with the dogs and donkey.
Diane and Don were a dynamic duo, he a career IBM businessman and she a community powerhouse in the cities they lived in and loved, from San Francisco, to Phoenix, to Greenwich, CT, Santa Monica and at last back to Watsonville in 1980.
Diane was a deeply passionate civic leader and was dedicated to All Saints/Cristo Rey Episcopal Church in Watsonville (founded in 1886 by her Great Grandparents John T. Porter and Frances Cumming Porter), the Agricultural History Project at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, and the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation/Rogers House.
She championed the creation of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, The Pajaro Valley Arts Council, The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and was integrally involved in countless other organizations, notably the University of California at Santa Cruz, the UCSC Arboretum, the Santa Cruz Symphony, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville. Diane was a second-generation member of the Town and Country Club in San Francisco, and the Casa Adobe Club in Monterey.
Diane was a well-known and respected change agent. Early on in her life, she was keenly aware of the need to protect and preserve the environment; land, sea and air and worked tirelessly to address the issues that threatened the well-being of the Elkhorn Slough, the native species on her beloved ranches, and make key conservation advances such as environmental easements to protect farmland. She was involved in the Nature Conservancy and on the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency. In addition, she gave her time to helping homeless youth, families and individuals, and foster youth in addition to countless charities aiding the underserved in her community and around the world.
Among her accolades and honors were Farmer of the Year, (1998). District State Assemblyman Woman of the Year (1988), The UCSC Fiat Lux Award (2013, along with her husband, Don), Honorary Ranger from the California State Parks Foundation, (2011 also with Don) and scores of others.
Though she deeply loved her community and the ranches she called home, her family was the most important thing in her life. Not just her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but her nieces and nephews, cousins, cousins’ children, and her family tree in its entirety. The world will never quite know just how many lives she touched, how many people received an education, braces, medical care, homes, cars, financial support or just love when most needed. She was a loyal, hands-on, brilliant woman whose capacity to give was unparalleled and her generous philanthropy felt far and wide.
Together, her family mourns the loss of “The One and Only”, her laughter, quick wit, fabulous parties, celebrations, Easter egg and scavenger hunts, not to mention her yodel, ability to spin a yarn, lead a song, pop a cork, or just give her undivided attention. Every moment was a wonder and she never, ever lost sight of the goodness and glory of life. Her gratitude for each day guided her spirit and gifted her with days full of beauty and song.
Diane is survived by her husband Donald Cooley, daughter Anne and Ben Youngblood of Carmel and Los Angeles, daughter-in-law Debby Coolnas of Aptos, grandchildren Sam and Rebecca Cooley, Kathryn and Tyler Doman of Watsonville, Genevieve Fullerton Dash of Los Angeles and Thomas Porter Youngblood also of Los Angeles, in addition to her great grandchildren Porter Ann and Eva Mae Doman and Sam Cooley, Jr., all of Watsonville and mark the seventh generation of the Porter Family in the Pajaro Valley and Watsonville. Sadly, she was preceded in death by her loving son, Steven Porter Cooley of Aptos, in February 2021.
In her memory, please yodel, sing, laugh, have fun, hike a trail and, if you are so inclined, make a donation to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation (Heritage Hall Project) www.fairgrounds-foundation.org or All Saints/Cristo Rey Church, 437 Rogers St., Watsonville, CA 95076.
A memorial service will be held for Diane at All Saints/Cristo Rey Church on Saturday, March 19th, 2022, at 2:00pm.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Diane P. Cooley, please visit our floral store.
Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation
2601 E. Lake Avenue, Watsonville CA 95076
All Saints Cristo Rey Church
437 Rogers Street, Watsonville CA 95076