Obituary: Diann Ring

Community leader, consummate cook, devoted wife, mother, friend

Diann Benningfield Ring died at age 81 on March 2, her hand firmly held by Robert, her husband of 60 years.

Diann served on the Claremont City Council from 1986-1999 and as mayor from 1992-1994. She  actively participated in many other community organizations throughout her 51 years in Claremont.

She was the only child of Virginia and Thomas Benningfield, who operated a Sherwin Williams paint store in McKinney, Texas. She blossomed in high school as editor of the newspaper, National Honor Society officer, and solo majorette and fire baton twirler for the marching band. In her first week at the University of Texas at Austin in 1961, where she planned to major in journalism, she met her future husband on a blind lunch date.

Robert remembers that she was, “vivacious and captivating,” he said. “Besides, she did all the talking, allowing me to listen and eat Tex-Mex food.” He says that he somehow displaced the other suitors vying for her attention. By the time he went off to Dallas for medical school in 1962, they were a couple. They married in December 1963, a year before she completed her journalism degree at Southern Methodist University.

Meanwhile she worked as a publicity writer and public relations aide at WFAA-TV in Dallas from 1964 to 1966, the only woman there who was not on the secretarial staff.

Over the next eight years, her life tracked her husband’s as he studied medicine, served an internship, joined the U.S. Navy, completed his residency, taught radiology for a year in Texas, and then began his medical practice. While in the Boston area for the first time she taught high school English. Their son, Rob, was born in Dallas in 1967 while Mr. Ring was overseas in the Navy. For the second year his service, in Annapolis, Maryland, she learned to sail on the Chesapeake Bay. Back in Boston for his residency, she gave birth to Susan in 1970. Then in 1972 they moved to the Houston area for a year, where she founded a successful regional magazine, Bay Breeze.

Former Claremont mayor and City Council member Diann Ring, pictured here in 1975, died March 2 at age 81. Courier/file photo

In 1973 the family moved to Claremont, where she jumped into graduate studies at the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), earning a master’s degree in public policy in 1976. Another of her projects was forming a public relations and political consulting firm with her friends Louie Robinson and Sue Keith while actively working in regional and local political campaigns with the late Sandy Baldonado.

Meanwhile, she coached her children’s sports teams, played soccer herself with Claremont Older Women’s Soccer (the COWS) and the Casa Colina women’s league team, and occasionally ran 5K races. She and her family avidly followed the 1970s Dodgers and frequently sailed to Catalina from the mid 1970s through the 1990s. From the 1990s until 2023, the family spent summer vacations at their home in Maine, where she gardened, cooked lobster dinners, listened to loons, and boated with her husband on the Sheepscot River.

“In the midst of her activities, Diann cherished her many friends,” her family said. “She generously gave her love, help and home to them as they experienced life’s losses and joys.” Keith gives an example from a traumatic moment in her life. “As I was being wheeled into surgery, Diann ran alongside the bed giving me encouragement,” she said. “When I woke up, she was there. The world needs more Dianns.”

Lissa Petersen, referring to a large circle of friends going back to the early 1970s, wrote to the family on news of her death. “Diann has been one of the strongest threads that has woven our lives together over half a century. She was always there — cooking, leading, donating, volunteering, unhesitatingly sharing her firm opinions, showing up when someone needed help, inviting us over. And always welcoming us warmly.”

In 1973 she joined the League of Woman Voters, where she was a member for more than 50 years, holding various positions including president, county budget chair, and state budget chair. Fellow League member Arlene Andrew remembers that she would dutifully do the studying to develop the League’s political positions, but what she really loved was “Being in the fray, making good things happen — getting on with it.”

As president of the League, she started the annual fundraising dinner and auction. Serving as auction dinner chair for decades, she managed the cooking with only volunteers. Many women of her generation remember joyfully preparing food around the island in her kitchen. Karen Rosenthal, her self-proclaimed sous chef who later served on the City Council with her, recalls, “Diann and I had a longstanding food relationship. From the first League of Women Voters dinner/auction held in 1976 at the Claremont Graduate University president’s home, we worked together on ‘April in Paris,’ ‘Spring on the Riviera,’ ‘Mexican Serenade,’ and ‘A Bit O’ the Blarney,’ and many more. As much as we loved talking food, I think we really enjoyed working in the kitchen together.” Her passion for cooking with friends for good causes led to her to author a cookbook, “I Did It My Way,” published by the League in 1982.

Her growing interest in gourmet cooking in the 1970s led to accepting requests for planning and preparing food for events and causes at her home and in large outside venues. She rarely refused a request to prepare a dinner party in support of her favorite organizations. Her close friend Charlene Martin, who directed International Place at the Claremont Colleges, confirms the point.  “Diann showed her love for her friends with the question, ‘What can I do to help?’ And so often she helped by cooking — a 16th birthday dinner for my daughter, a meal for the mourners when my dad passed away, and a gourmet salad for 500 at International Place’s annual banquet.”

(L-R) Diann Ring and Claremont City Council members Ed Reece and Corey Calaycay at the 2022 Claremont Heritage gala at the DoubleTree Hotel. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

She served as a board member in many local organizations: Community Friends of International Students, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, the Casa Colina Foundation, House of Ruth, Claremont High School Parent Faculty Association, Pilgrim Place, Claremont Foothill Association, and AYSO.

And over the years she ran many political campaigns for candidates and ballot measures, walking the streets of Claremont to meet its citizens face to face in pursuit of opinions and votes. After serving four years on the planning commission, in 1986 she decided to be a candidate for City Council herself. She served for 12 years.

Her husband explains that as a politician, a people person, and a woman of action, “Diann’s modus operandi was defined by the phrase, ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,’ usually putting on her soft Texas accent when she needed a favor. But she had another side better suited to the adage, ‘It is better to ask forgiveness than permission.’ She was strong enough to unhesitatingly and publicly stand up for what she believed was right and pursue that vision.”

Much of her vision for Claremont was set in motion, advanced, or completed through cooperation with her fellow council members. Bill McCready, whose political background diverged from hers, said, “I have fond memories of Diann working with me to make things happen.” Bill, who joined City Council two years before she did, describes the difference she made: “Before Diann came, the Council members had many split votes. Once three agreed, two of us were left out. When Diann came on, she said to me, ‘I’d like us to work together.’ And for the next six years of my term, we did work together with full respect — Diann, me, Nick Presecan, Judy Wright, and Alex Hughes — and later Al Leiga.

“There was no backstabbing. There was no counting to three. On Village West, the depot, the hillsides, it was a matter of let’s find something all of us can back. We listened to each other and arrived at solutions that built in our different views so that we were working together for the good of the community. Votes were unanimous. The Courier hated it because there was no drama.”

“And there was lots of fun,” her family added.

Former Assistant City Manager Bridget Healy remembers “Diann worked so hard for the community … and, she played hard, too.” Bridget’s favorite example were the grape stomping parties in the Ring’s backyard with grapes sourced from various Southern California vineyards.  “It was a family event,” Healy said. “My three kids have the fondest of memories stomping grapes, enjoying the crafts and games Diann designed for them, and enjoying delicious barbecue. As Diann so often said, ‘It takes a village.’ And she always included, regardless of age, those who made up our community village.” Teddie and Kent Warner and their two boys had just moved to town when Diann invited them to stomp grapes. That was their introduction to Claremont.

Many longtime Claremonters would agree that the City Council during that period was extraordinarily productive. In 1988 its members hired Glenn Southard as city manager to carry out their agenda. With his leadership under their direction, Council members passed the first landscape and lighting district, providing new funding that enabled the city to continue  maintaining streets, trees, lights, and parks. The decision allowed youth sports programs to continue in the parks.

The Claremont City Council circa 1995 (L-R) Suzan Smith Judy Cody, Algrid Leiga, Diann Ring and Judy Wright. Courier/file photo

Southard describes what her role was. “On the City Council, Diann was the glue. She knew what she wanted to accomplish and kept her eye on the ball but was willing to cooperate with other Council members. She opened her home to them and was always figuring out how to get things done. She and Al Leiga, who had nothing in common politically, became close friends. He even carried her lipstick around for her.” Keith added, “Al Leiga’s wife was paralyzed, so Diann would take him shopping for neckties and other things for his wardrobe.”

Another major accomplishment during her tenure was the city’s acquisition of the first 1,250 of Claremont’s 3,000 foothill acres for the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park — the area now called “the loop.” Until then all but 40 acres had been in private hands. Over the following years, more acres were added to the park so that it comprises more than 2,500 acres today. The city also annexed 1,400 hillside acres from LA County and purchased the Padua Hills Theater. “From the time Diann first came to Claremont, she had dreamed of protecting the hillsides and conserving them for people to enjoy,” her family said. “In the late 1970s, she had served on a League study committee for that purpose. In 1995 she and her fellow council members brought that vision to life.”

The Council members achieved other shared goals to transform Claremont’s Village. They saved the historic packing house from demolition and expanded the Village to the west side of Indian Hill Boulevard, partly by creatively employing redevelopment funds. And under their leadership, the Claremont Depot was renovated and reopened for Metrolink use in 1992. The depot now houses the Claremont Lewis Museum of Art.

The council brought benefits throughout the city, such as persuading Caltrans to depress the 210 Freeway, persuading LA County to reopen Fire Station 62 at the north end of Mills Avenue, and revitalizing the auto center after a bankruptcy. The auto center is the major source of tax revenue for the city today.

Claremont’s Human Services Director at the time, Dick Guthrie, values her contributions to his department. “Diann was mayor when I arrived in the early 1990s. She quickly became a staunch supporter in growing human services and, in particular, supporting the growth of youth programs. She strongly supported developing the youth master plan, which became the national model for other cities; the re-opening of the long-closed Youth Activity Center, still going for almost 30 years; and the development of the Guthrie Skate Park. I also vividly remember her passionate support for the development of the Alexander Hughes Community Center and her leading the effort to name it after Mr. Hughes. Diann was such an amazing public official, the model of what great leadership is. She will be sorely missed by those of us who worked with her.”

In 1999, her last year of council service, she was honored as the grand marshal of Claremont’s Fourth of July celebration. In March 2024, in honor of her service to the city, flags at City of Claremont buildings flew at half-mast for a week.

Her husband reflects on the contributions of his beloved wife. “By imparting a legacy of service responsible to the needs of the whole community, Diann has left us this message from a life well lived — always step up to the plate to fill the need of the moment and plan carefully and cooperatively for a brighter future. Diann, like so many before and since in this fine community, put in the time and did the demanding work of hands-on involvement, over and over, for decades.”

She is survived by her husband Robert; son Robert H. Ring; daughter Susan Ring; daughter-in-law Julie Sladek Ring; Susan’s partner Steven Candelas; and grandchildren Jasper Thomas and Ella Ring.

In lieu of flowers or other items, please consider a contribution to the following organizations Diann loved and supported, or to any you regularly support: Claremont Heritage at, Hope Partners at, Clasp at, or House of Ruth at

A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.


Submit a Comment

Share This