Remembering SILS Alumni & Friends

2020 Obituaries

Helen N. Diggs

Helen N. Diggs of Arden, N.C. and formerly of Saltville, Va., died Oct. 20, 2020, at the age of 93. Born in Saltville, she was the wife of the late Henry Edwin Diggs, and the daughter of the late Chester Irving and Helen Gould (Nye) Neighbours. She was preceded in death by a sister, Lucille Reynolds.

Mrs. Diggs received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For several years, she was a teacher and librarian at Saltville Elementary School. She also served as librarian at schools in Buncombe County, N.C., Johnston County, N.C., Portsmouth, Va., and Chattanooga, Tenn. She was an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church while living in Saltville, and was instrumental in the formation of the Saltville Community Library, which later became part of the Smyth-Bland library system.

Survivors include her sons Hank and wife Chrissie of Connecticut, Whit and wife Sue of Toccoa, Ga., Tim and wife Julia of Houston, sister Jane Holmes of Sewanee, Tenn., five grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

More than a decade ago, Tim and wife Julia established the Helen Neighbours Diggs Endowment for Collections Support at SILS. The SILS Library uses the fund to acquire and preserve materials and for other areas of greatest need. 


Ruth R. Gambee

Ruth R. Gambee died April 24, 2020, in Burlington, N.C., at the age of 102. She was the widow of Budd Leslie Gambee, a long-time professor at SILS and namesake of the Gambee Memorial Library Fund, which supports the SILS Library. 

Mrs. Gambee was born in Detroit, Mich., on Feb. 9, 1918, the daughter of Rev. Emil G. Richter and Martha Lembke Richter. She was a graduate of Wayne State University, Detroit, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Library Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She held public library and university library positions in Michigan and Indiana. She was also a librarian at New York State Library, Albany, and at the West Virginia Library Commission.

During her residency in Chapel Hill from 1963 to 1994, she spent 11 years as book reviewer for Library Journal and did indexing of several academic publications. She also served as editor of the Index of the Chapel Hill Weekly from 1923-1928, which was published by the Chapel Hill Historical Society in 1992.

Among Mrs. Gambee’s interests were short story writing and playing the recorder. Three of her stories were published in college magazines and she also won several awards. She belonged to the Triangle Recorder Society and the Triad Early Music Society. She was a member of Macedonia Lutheran Church in Burlington.


W. Gene Story

W. Gene Story died July 24 in Kansas City. He was born Aug. 1, 1931, in Wayne, Mich., and attended the Michigan State Normal College (now EMU) and Indiana University, majoring in business and accounting. He served in the U.S. Army in Japan during the Korean conflict. 

He settled in Cincinnati after grad school and worked for Proctor & Gamble for 35 years, mostly as a budget analyst for the packaged soap and detergent department. He married Joanne Geist Story in 1961. They traveled extensively during their marriage, beginning with a honeymoon in Greece, and welcomed daughter Alison in 1964. They filled their lives with art, theater, symphony, travel, books, and lots of cooking and baking until Joanne’s death in 1985. 

Gene became a frequent guest at dinner parties hosted by Jane Steinfirst, and at one of these gatherings he met Susan Steinfirst, a professor of children’s and young adult literature at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS). Gene and Susan married in 1987. After retiring from P&G, he helped Susan run her children’s bookshop, and the two enjoyed a life filled with travel, books, art, and good food. 

After Susan’s death in 1997, Gene established the Susan Steinfirst Memorial Lecture in Children’s Literature fund at SILS to bring renowned authors, illustrators, and other children’s literature experts to speak in Chapel Hill. He enjoyed being part of these events and especially hosting dinner parties for the speakers and special guests. 

He remained in Carrboro, N.C., until 2015 when he moved to Kansas City to be closer to family. In lieu of a memorial gathering, which did not seem practical even before the pandemic because he had friends and family all over the world, Gene’s daughter Alison asks that everyone who knew him think of Aug. 1 as “Remember Gene Day.”  


In Deepest Sympathy

SILS extends condolences to the family and friends of the alumni who passed away during the previous year. The following were drawn from obituaries published from Nov. 1, 2019, to Nov. 1, 2020. 

John M. Johnson (MSLS ’67)
November 9, 2019 

Andrea L. Rohrbacher (MSLS ’90)
November 11, 2019

Phyllis C. Otto (MSLS ’76)
December 13, 2019    

Robert D. Davis    (MSLS ’71)
December 24, 2019

Ben R. Tucker (MSLS ’59)
December 26, 2019    

Frances H. Hall (MSLS ’57)
January 18, 2020    

Judith A. Music (MSLS ’71)
February 1, 2020    

Connie E. Bolden (MSLS ’67)
February 6, 2020    

Alita R. Cooper (MSLS ’74)
February 7, 2020    

Margaret M. Knoerr (MSLS ’70)
February 10, 2020    

Alice S. Richmond (MSLS ’71)
March 16, 2020    

William R. Pollard (MSLS ’65)
April 1, 2020    

Jean Rhyne (MSLS ’61)
April 12, 2020     

Naomi D. Butler (MSLS ’66)
April 18, 2020    

Juanita D. Wilks (MSLS ’86)
May 8, 2020

Jacksie M. Cumby (BSLS ’54)
August 6, 2020    

Lucy T. Vecera (BSLS ’56)
September 25, 2020    

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