Dr. Diane M. Becker died peacefully at home with family by her side in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 17 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 78.

She held the degrees of ScD, MPH, RN and was an expert in the prevention and management of coronary artery disease.

Diane and Lew, her husband of 57 years, were longtime seasonal residents of the Vineyard. They first came in 1985 and fell in love with the Island. In 1990, they purchased a home in Lambert’s Cove. Their improvements over the years included creating beautiful gardens according to Diane’s impeccable vision.

She was born in Warwick, N.Y. on March 27, 1943, the daughter of Lucile Swartwout and John Smith Demarest of Greenwood Lake, N.Y.

She graduated from the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing in 1964. Over the following 17 years, she worked as nursing director at intensive care units in London, Boston and Chapel Hill.

Compelled to address public health in the communities she served, she completed both an MPH and doctoral degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1984 and became nationally recognized as an expert in coronary disease risk factors and lipid disorders. Working closely with her husband, who is a cardiologist at the same medical school, she founded the Johns Hopkins Sibling and Family Heart Study, a family study of genetic and lifestyle risk factors for early heart attacks. It is the only family study of its kind in the country.

Dr. Becker was a creative and visionary health professional. She partnered with pastors from 250 East Baltimore churches to form the award-winning Heart, Body, and Soul, Inc. an independent nonprofit designed to create real world health care delivery alternatives in inner-city, African American communities. Working closely with Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore, Dr Becker was a pioneer in community medicine, known for her work to improve opportunities for community members to enter health careers.

In her 60 years at Johns Hopkins, her work to reduce health disparities was recognized with numerous national awards. In 1995, she was awarded a prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship and served on the U.S. senate committee for Medicare and low-income families. She was a sought-after mentor of students, fellows and junior faculty, and directed a unique federal health policy clerkship in which Hopkins medical students were placed in congressional or executive offices in Washington, D.C.

In 2004, Dr. Becker and her Vineyard colleague Dr. Charles Silberstein designed and carried out the Health Report of Martha’s Vineyard, a first-of-its kind comprehensive study that surveyed more than 1,000 full-time and 700 part-time adult Island residents. It was published in August 2006 as the Health Conditions and Health Status Report of Martha’s Vineyard and examined public health issues such as Lyme disease, skin cancer, depression and excessive alcohol consumption.

The report was supported by nearly every health care organization on the Island. The full text of the report is available on the Vineyard Gazette website.

Diane loved the Vineyard and often called it her spirit place. Inspired by its beauty, she became an avid photographer of Island sunsets, old houses and barns. She enthusiastically supported Vineyard arts organizations, music and dance events and the Vineyard Film Center. She was a passionate gardener, a lover of words and music, and had a sharp wit and a creative spirit.  

Diane had an impressive career and life full of friends and loved ones.

Funeral services are being planned and will be announced at a later date.

Donations can be sent to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services or the Susan G. Komen organization, whose mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer.