This obituary is part of a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.
Diane Keith’s life changed in 1987, on her first day of Navy training in Virginia Beach. She had struggled in early adulthood, and she saw the military as a way to give herself direction. But it had meant leaving her baby at home in Ohio with her mother. Sitting there, wondering if she had made the right decision, she began to cry.
A young man came by and tried to console her.
“It’s going to be OK,” said Ronald Fillmore. “Because one of these days I’m going to marry you.”
She laughed and she stopped crying. Five years later, they got married.
Ms Fillmore, who spent six years in the service, raised three children and found a new career in her early fifties, died Jan. 14 in a hospital in Dayton, Ohio. She was 59 years old. The cause was Covid-19, her daughter, Britt Fillmore, said.
Diane Lynn Keith was born October 14, 1961 in St. Marys, Ohio, approximately 60 miles north of Dayton. His parents, Thomas Keith and Margaret (Lee) Keith, both worked in factories.
After graduating from high school, she moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, to train to be a flight attendant. She gave up, but she stayed in town because she had started dating someone. The two separated while pregnant with her first child, Ryan, born in 1985.
She spent the next few months struggling to get by in Wichita Falls, sleeping at one point in her car with her newborn baby next to her. She then returned to Ohio and decided to take charge of her life. She enlisted in the Navy, temporarily left Ryan with her parents, and left for Virginia Beach.
In the Navy, she worked in the Office of Naval Personnel, where she received a Medal of Good Conduct and brought Ryan back to live with her.
She and Mr. Fillmore married in 1992, the same year their daughter, Britt, was born. Ms. Fillmore left the service in 1993 as a Petty Officer Third Class and the family returned to Ohio, settling in Dayton.
Mr. Fillmore accepted civilian employment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base while Ms. Fillmore stayed at home to raise their children. When her sister, Katherine Keith, died in 2000, shortly after her husband’s death, she and Mr. Fillmore adopted their 4-year-old daughter, Jazmine Cager.
Ms. Fillmore was known to her children’s friends as the “cool mom”. She laughed heartily and had an ear for music, especially old-school R&B groups like Frankie Beverly and Maze, as well as newer artists like Drake and Juvenile. She wore headphones constantly, dancing a shoulder movement while doing household chores.
“Half the time when I walked into the house she didn’t even know I was there,” said Britt Fillmore.
In 2010, after her three children graduated from high school, Ms. Fillmore found another new direction. She enrolled at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, becoming a student at the same time as her daughter Britt was studying at the Cincinnati Art Institute. She then obtained an associate’s degree in medical coding.
“If my mom was doing well in school, that meant I had to do good in school too,” said Britt Fillmore.
But inspiration, she added, also went the other way. Ms. Fillmore often needed help with math, and her daughter was home on the weekends to teach her.
“Your mom teaches you so much, so it was fun to be able to teach her how to do things,” said Britt Fillmore. “She went from almost zero failure to a B.”
After graduating in 2012, Ms. Fillmore worked at a number of Dayton area medical facilities, most recently at Kettering Medical Center, where she was an account representative.
With her daughter Britt, she is survived by her other children, Ryan and Jazmine; her husband; his mother; his brothers, Michael, Douglas, David and Allen Keith; and a granddaughter.
Britt Fillmore said that in recent years her mother has become obsessed with a genre of YouTube video known as mukbang, in which people eat huge amounts of food while chatting with viewers. She was particularly fond of a mukbang star specializing in seafood.
“The ironic thing,” Ms. Fillmore said, “is that she had been dramatically allergic to seafood her entire life. She would look at this and say, ‘Wow, I wish I could eat this.’ “