When family and friends gather Wednesday to celebrate the life of Diane Gamble, the children may outnumber the adults.
For nearly 25 years, Diane and her husband, retired District Judge Dave Gamble, have operated City of Refuge, in the Gardnerville Pine Nuts, offering a home for pregnant women while awaiting the births of their children.
At City of Refuge, she handled multiple tasks: House mother, teacher, fund-raiser, role model, confidante and honorary godmother to the more than 100 babies born since 1991.
Diane was “the candy lady” to dozens of children at Grace Community Church, where the Gambles worshiped and took active roles in ministry.
She died Monday at her home in Gardnerville. She was 61.
Her memorial service is 1 p.m., Wednesday, at Grace Community Church, and guests are encouraged to bring children.
“We’re trying to make her memorial as fun and colorful as Diane was,” Dave Gamble said. “Because of her faith, because she knew her Lord, I have huge joy in knowing where she is.”
Preliminary reports indicated Diane died of a pulmonary embolism about 4:30 a.m. Monday.
Gamble said he was working in Elko and Las Vegas last week, sitting as a senior judge, and came home Saturday.
“We had a wonderful night on Saturday, and got up Sunday for church,” he said.
In retrospect, the sermon, preached by Pastor Jason Ching, and the conversation it inspired between them on what would be their last day together was providential, Gamble said.
The sermon was based on John 15, “the vine and the branches.”
“It speaks of the joy we should have in this life, that it should invade all our life,” Gamble said. “’If we abide in Him, it shall bear much fruit.’”
Dave stayed for the second part of the service, and Diane returned home.
“I got home about 2:30 p.m., and we talked about the message all afternoon. We talked way more spiritually that afternoon than we usually do,” he said.
They spent the evening watching television, and prepared for bed about 11 p.m.
He said Diane was in the bathroom singing one of their favorite songs, and he joined in from the bedroom for a few verses. He read a novel and she her scripture before they turned out the light.
“The last words she spoke or heard were ‘Amen,’ or ‘I love you,’” Gamble said.
Diane slept with supplemental oxygen because of nerve damage to her diaphragm that impeded her breathing at night.
Gamble said it was routine to be awakened, hearing her labored breathing, and he would turn her slightly.
About 4:30 a.m. Monday, Gamble said the dog awoke him and he noticed Diane was having trouble breathing.
“As I moved her, she stopped breathing,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘No, not this.’”
He called 911 and applied CPR until City of Refuge houseparents Mark and Sherry Barnett arrived along with paramedics and sheriff’s officers.
She never regained consciousness.
“I knew before they arrived that she was absent from the body and present with the Lord,” he said. “She never had a moment’s pain, stress or panic.”
Since her death, Gamble said he has heard from women who lived at City of Refuge 20 years ago, along with a cross-section of people who reflect Diane’s welcoming spirit.
“She had a love for the unlovely. She protected the vulnerable. She was whole-souled and committed to her Savior. She took absolute delight in her children and grandchildren and liked her husband OK,” he said.
Gamble said it was their commitment as a couple to have their marriage represent the relationship between Christ and his church.
“We had the same problems as everybody else, but our desire was that our relationship as husband and wife be exemplified to the girls at Refuge and our own kids,” he said.
Gamble said as he deals with the newness of his loss, he still starts conversations with Diane, or expects to see her walk out of the bathroom.
“She was such a gift to me. I could not have lived my life the way I did without her support. She was my best adviser and smartest counselor. She loved me with her whole heart as I did her.”
Gamble said the family is asking guests at the memorial to leave the somber clothing and sad faces at home.
Diane’s son, Mark McKinnon, took her casket to an auto-body shop and had it painted purple metal flake. After the service, participants will be given silver Sharpies to write messages to Diane.
She is to be buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City.
Jennifer Arnold plans to attend with her 15-year-old son, Harrison, who was born at City of Refuge in 1999.
Arnold, now 33, was 18, pregnant, and scared when she arrived at City of Refuge in September 1998.
“I came to Refuge from a shelter in Northern California. From the moment I met her (Diane) she was amazing. She was like my mother,” Arnold said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Marysville, Calif.
“My son’s father and I broke up after a pretty volatile relationship. The Gambles brought me out to their home in the middle of the Pine Nuts and it was kind of scary. But the moment you walked through the door, it wasn’t scary any more,” Arnold said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have survived, my son wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Dave and Diane.”
Over the years, Arnold and her family have been frequent visitors to City of Refuge, and Jennifer kept in touch with mothers she met there.
“I was standing in line at the post office, checking Facebook, when I found out Diane had died. There just aren’t enough words to express how I feel,” she said.
Gamble said what he’s learned in the past few days is that “man does not know the day nor the hour.”
“What I have taken away from this is that you should not leave unsaid the last ‘I love you’ that you want to say,” he said.
“There’s not a text or an email or personal conversation in our family that doesn’t end with ‘I love you,’” he said. “Love your family and let them know you love them while you can.”
As news of Diane Gamble’s death spread, friends shared their thoughts on a blog offered by Grace Community Church.
Friends remembered “Diny” as warm and welcoming, a woman who combined her deep faith with an irresistible sense of humor.
“I was blessed by Diane’s transparency, her childlike faith, and how she wasn’t pretentious. I will miss seeing the long line of children waiting for treats from her at church,” wrote a friend.
The children mourned for “the candy lady.”
“They cried when they heard she went to heaven but one of ours said, ‘It’s kind of neat though, because she went to sleep and then when she woke up she was in heaven.’ In a prayer later, one of our little ones prayed, ‘I hope that she is having a good time with God in heaven.’”