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‘Kind, generous and loving’

Diana Douglas Webster

Family members have paid tribute to a “generous, outward-going, non-judgmental” woman after the passing of Diana Douglas Webster on Friday.

Ms Douglas Webster, actress and mother of Hollywood actor Michael Douglas, was born into a high-standing family of Bermudians in 1923 and was known locally as Diana Dill.

While she moved to the United States, the Island always held a special place in her heart. The family has roots in Bermuda dating back to the 1630s and they began running the Ariel Sands property in Smith’s as a hotel in 1954.

Susan Mary Attride-Stirling, Ms Douglas Webster’s niece and goddaughter, described her as “an absolute riot”.

“She loved playing practical jokes,” she said. “After one of the big Dill parties in the ‘70s, my father Laurence [Diana’s brother] had been on the piano until four in the morning with everyone singing. Diana called up my mother [Mary] at 7 o’clock in the morning pretending to be Bermuda Home and Garden magazine to say she would be there in half an hour to take photographs of the house for the magazine. It freaked my poor mother out but they all had a good laugh.”

Ms Attride-Stirling said her aunt was a huge supporter and advocate of Amnesty International — Ms Attride-Stirling’s mother-in-law Lucy Attride-Stirling started the Amnesty chapter in Bermuda and the pair got on “like a house on fire”.

“She was a general supporter of most liberal causes,” she said. “And as a godmother she was kind and generous, very loving and supportive.”

Ms Douglas Webster was the daughter of Ruth Neilson and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Melville Dill, who was a former Bermuda Attorney-General and commanding officer of the Bermuda Militia Artillery.

She married Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas with whom she had two children — Joel and Michael. The marriage was a tumultuous one and ended in 1951 when Mr Douglas’s career took off with the 1949 film Champion.

She went on to marry actor/producer and novellist Bill Darrid and they remained together for 37 years until his death in 1992. It was with Mr Darrid that she built her cottage in Ariel Sands and came to visit the Island to relive her childhood days.

Ms Douglas Webster’s great-nephew Patrick Dill said she often talked fondly of Bermuda: “When she remarried to Bill they lived on the east coast for years and she would come down to Bermuda occasionally.

“She loved Bermuda, you know. Bermuda was her home. She used to live at New Bold Place on the waterside next to Devonshire Dock. She was the younger, by quite some years, of six kids and her brother Laurence tried to make her feel special. He would do things like climb up on the roof at Christmas time and go ‘ho, ho, ho’ down the chimney but what he didn’t realise was that it scared the crap out of her.”

Mr Dill said his great-aunt was very excited about her son Michael’s plan to redevelop Ariel Sands.

“When we first started looking at redeveloping the hotel — Michael started putting money back in years ago — that was very exciting for her. Ariel Sands was where she would go when she was growing up, it was the place they used to go.

“They would take picnics and that sort of thing when they were younger so it was a special spot.

“She was extremely kind, she was very generous and no matter how crazy you were she would always listen to you. She was non-judgmental and had a way about her that was very regal but she was someone who could relate on many different levels to many different people.

“She had no real bones about whether you happened to be Charlton Heston or whether you happened to be Patrick Dill — there was no change in the way she talked to people.

“It’s funny because she dated Errol Flynn for a while and was friends with lots and lots of famous people but she was just full of fun and really down-to-earth.”

At the age of 79, Ms Douglas Webster married Donald Webster, the former chief of staff under President Richard Nixon, at Devonshire Parish Church where her parents married.

The reception was held in Ariel Sands property.

Her book In the Wings: A Memoir was published in 1999 and came about following a request from Michael, who wanted a frank and personal memoir for his own son Cameron.

In the book she recalls her great-uncles born in Northern Ireland who, while on their way to Virginia, “stepped off the boat in Bermuda and decided to stay”. She wrote: “They were ardent royalists and remained so during the tenure of Oliver Cromwell, one of them reportedly fighting a duel in Devonshire churchyard defending the king’s name.”

Patrick’s cousin Matthew Dill added: “She didn’t spend a whole lot of time here in her later years. Since [Bill] passed away she hasn’t been back a whole lot but she talked about Bermuda all the time.

“Her wishes were for her ashes to be scattered in Bermuda so I expect there will be a memorial service here at some point in time.”