Academics

UNC School of Nursing mourns scholar, mentor and educator Diane Berry

She passed away unexpectedly and leaves a legacy that spanned nearly two decades.

Diane Berry
Diane Berry, the Jane Sox Monroe Distinguished Professor in Nursing, passed away unexpectedly March 24.

Diane Berry, the Jane Sox Monroe Distinguished Professor in Nursing, passed away unexpectedly March 24, leaving a remarkable legacy of research, mentorship and leadership at Carolina that spanned nearly two decades.

Berry was a talented nurse scientist with internationally recognized expertise in chronic illness prevention and management among individuals from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. Her work focused on management and prevention of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes mellitus using community-based research in English and Spanish in the United States and in Mexico. She was dedicated to community research centered on the needs and perspectives of the communities with which she partnered.

“Diane’s tireless dedication and selfless commitment to advancing nursing research, supporting her peers and guiding junior faculty and students is an example to us all,” said Nena Peragallo Montano, dean and professor at the UNC School of Nursing. “All of us who knew and worked with Diane deeply valued her many contributions to our school and to nursing.”

For her most recent project, Berry was awarded nearly $3 million in research grant funding from the National Institute for Nursing Research to improve nutrition and physical activity among overweight Hispanic mothers and their young children to inhibit the development of prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. In 2016, she received funding from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as co-principal investigator of  Medical Optimization and Management of Pregnancies with Overt Type 2 Diabetes, the largest trial of Type 2 diabetes in pregnancy ever conducted in the United States. Berry’s passion and enthusiasm for women’s health was “infectious,” said Dr. Kim Boggess of the UNC School of Medicine, Berry’s co-principal investigator of MOMPOD.

“She brought that passion to our project in spades and was very motivating not only to me, but the whole team, to do the best we could to help the women we were serving, whether it be clinically or as part of our research project,” Boggess said. “Diane had a unique skillset in that she had a lot of experience with community-based research, so she brought that perspective to our research project and helped us think about what the impact of our research is on the women and on the community and how we factor in what the women need, not just as research subjects, but as community members.”

Berry earned a diploma in nursing at the Sisters of Charity Hospital School of Nursing and Canisus College in Buffalo, New York, in 1976. She received a bachelor of science in nursing from Lenoir Rhyne College in Hickory, in 1987. In 1997, she received her master of science degree in nursing and adult nurse practitioner – board certified and her doctorate from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University 2003-05 in nursing and self and family management of chronic conditions before coming to the UNC School of Nursing.

In 2020, Berry received both the School of Nursing’s Tribute Award and Faculty Mentoring Award. She was devoted to graduate education and future generations of scholars, as well as the development of junior faculty at the school. Hudson Santos met Berry when he arrived at the school in 2015. He looked to her as a mentor as she helped him navigate academic life. From Berry, he learned to juggle faculty and research commitments, maintain the rigor of his work and stay lighthearted amid life and work challenges.

“Diane Berry was my go-to person,” Santos said. “She was so genuine in helping me and other junior faculty, always going out of her way to promote our professional and personal growth. She didn’t need anything in return. She just loved to mentor, and she was good at it. Seeing her celebrate her mentees’ achievements was a joy! I have learned so much from Diane, but she had so much more to teach me. I miss her tremendously as a mentor, a friend and a confidant. I will miss our phone calls and the shared laughs. The ripples of her work will forever be felt in the school.”

Santos said Berry inspired him not only to consider how he could be a better citizen of the University and the school, but also how using the power of a position of prestige could lift up those around you. She offered all she encountered — leadership, faculty and students — equal respect.

“A great lesson I learned from Diane is that you can be genuine, you can be nice, you can be forthcoming, and you can still be a great scientist and do very important work. You know how when someone very successful walks into a room, all the attention goes to them? Diane was completely the opposite. You would know her presence and how influential she was, but she never took the spotlight. She wanted it on others,” Santos said.

Berry was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International‘s Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame and was a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. At Carolina, she served as a Carolina Center for Public Service Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar (2009-11) and a UNC Faculty Development Scholar in health literacy, practice improvement and aging (2012-13).

The UNC School of Nursing has established the Diane Berry Memorial Fund to support a yet-to-be-determined area of interest. Colleagues and friends who wish to contribute may do so at go.unc.edu/DianeBerryFund. A virtual memorial has been planned for the School of Nursing community at 4 p.m. April 8. For details, please contact the school at sonalum@unc.edu.