Diana Todd-Banks is a woman who has had an incredibly varied life, has conquered very high hurdles to make things happen and overcome many deep lows. In fact her life is a book in itself.
Picking herself up and dusting herself off from the lows, she has moved forward with a positive happy outlook on life, which ultimately has opened up many new doors and experiences.
As a brief snap shot, during her hectic life Diana survived life in a Chicago slum living on just $1 a day, gained a music degree in classic guitar, became a mover and shaker in the international business arena between Australia and the US, has battled a crippling three-year bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, worked in back breaking ‘men’s jobs’ manually picking tobacco, then opted working in a sheep shearing gang, designed and made wedding gowns and after all that wrote about food and lifestyle then end of life matters.
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Beginning in Adelaide where Diana grew up, part of her training was “how to be a good business executive’s wife”, but the energetic Diana was not content to sit back and bask in someone else’s glory. At her first job at a major daily newspaper, she learned the basic skills of journalism and throughout her life has written about and promoted a vast array of people and products both in Australia and the US.
In 1969, she set out for the US so her husband could study at the University of Chicago. Money was tight and they were forced to live on $1 a day on the south side of Chicago, a predominantly African-American area. The infamous race riots of the 1960s were still fresh in everyone’s memory and this made life difficult.
As the cold weather settled over Chicago, Diana found the only way to keep warm was to spend time in the local supermarkets while her husband studied. Then, her visa didn’t permit her to work. One day while waiting in the checkout line she flicked through a magazine and spotted what became, a life-long dream.
“There was a picture of an amazing Excalibur motor car. My eyes were transfixed!
It was majestic and I knew right there one day I wanted to own one, even though at the time I was desperately poor.” Despite chastising herself for having what she thought was such a ludicrous goal, the goal nevertheless was firmly embedded in her subconscious.
Classic Guitar, Sitar, & Teaching
Sitars and guitars – not recipes – were the strongest influence in Cairns food writer Diana Todd-Bank’s life when this 1975 photo was taken in Columbus, Indiana. She moved to the United States from Adelaide in the late 60s with her then husband…
“Handle like eggs,” warned the notice on the rather sinister, dull black double – locked, case. Inside the airtight case was nothing more sinister than a gleaming $2,000 Ramirez, handmade, Spanish classical guitar, nestling seductively in wine-red velvet.
One wonders what might have happened if Diana Todd had moved upstairs of say, a sky diver or perhaps a snake charmer instead of a classical guitarist.
Back to Chicago, Diana turned her negative experiences of those early days into positive ones; she earned a little money from baby sitting, and with 2 goals in mind set out to conquer her personal fears, especially her painful shyness. She began studying classical guitar, singing and public speaking. She won three separate scholarships to a university in Chicago, obtained her BA degree with a classic guitar major, learned the sitar, taught guitar to 40 students each week, and devoted much of her spare time to teaching children with disabilities to also play the guitar.
International Trade, Food, Wine
In the early 1970s, Diana ventured into the world of food and wine and became a director of a cooking school in Chicago and was appointed to the committee of an Australian-American wine organisation.
Craving the warmth and the sunshine of her homeland, Diana returned to Australia in the late 70s where she recruited a small army of Australian business executives keen to tap into the American market. Returning to the US, Diana opened a consultancy specialising in promoting Australian foods and wines, but this time with a base in Southern California. In the early 80s she established her own specialty wine and food importing company and in doing so achieved a few milestones in the process.
That Black ‘Goo’ Vegemite
Introducing Vegemite to the US market, importing it by the container load in little 4ounce jars, was not an easy task but she did it. As well, Diana was recognised as one of, if not Australia’s first, female wine importer in the US at that time.
The Beverley Hills Hilton hosted a lavish cocktail party recently, and among the array of goodies on a buffet table were appetizers laced with a curious spread that looked like a cross between sludge and fudge syrup. Most of the attendees…
Diana Todd is probably the smartest Australian business woman in America. An importer of Australian food and wines, and US marketing consultant to various Australian companies, Todd, 40, is presently gaining what she calls…
Diana Todd-Banks in 1983, Australia’s Business Review Weekly named her “Australia’s secret weapon in the United States.” Now executive director of the Australian American Chamber of Commerce, Diana Todd-Banks can…
AUSTRALIAN businesses trying to enter the American market are generally unprofessional and do not understand how to do business. These are harsh words, but the executive director of the Australian American Chamber of Commerce…
Diana Todd, who has made her mark in talk shows across the States as the lady who brought us Vegemite, has been called the smartest Australian businesswoman in America.
The American media loved her and she became a regular in the print media, on TV and radio, all long before Paul Hogan and Men at Work made their first appearances in the US.
As each success led to even greater success, Diana became a founding director of the first Australian American Commerce in Los Angeles. Back home, the Australian Business Review Weekly published a three-page story about a ‘dynamic Aussie lady who was showing Aussie businessmen how to do business in the US’.
The young girl who was once destined to become a business executive’s wife had herself become the executive.
She returned once again to Australia when her father became seriously ill. Back on home soil, Diana turned her hand to fundraising and in a single day raised an amazing $64,420 for a premature babies’ charity. After her father died she moved to Cairns in 1991 where as part of a Diploma of Business, she taught public relations at TAFE to small business owners.
The Tropics, Trade & Tropical Foods
In Cairns, she established a company that helped Australian corporations break into the lucrative US market. As well, she became a feature columnist on food and lifestyle and continued to do this for 13 years.
Often life has a way of saying slow down … stop now … take a break. Do we listen to that? Most often not, not until we are forcibly stopped in some way. Diana was.
Life Stopped – Chronic Fatigue Stepped In
This happened in 1995, when Diana suffered a literally crippling setback, as she was diagnosed with a severe case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Diana Todd-Banks says one of her greatest failings has been her appearance. There was never a hair out of place. Her clothes were classic, immaculate. Her voice possessed a cultivated air.
Unable to walk, or barely talk, and living alone with her little shih tzu, the only way she could get around was to crawl on her hands and knees around the house. It was a frightening time and Diana recalls thinking if she ever did recover, she would do something to help others but at the time her feelings were so low she didn’t believe recovery would be possible. But it was and she did.
A year later life stepped in again as Diana’s mother died tragically and that sad experience set her on a path of one day researching and writing about ‘before and after the death of others.’ But there was a goal or two to achieve before doing that.
Just Do It … Don’t Wait For The Right Time
Leaving the tropics after 11 years, Diana moved to the Gold Coast, Queensland but after two years later, a favourite aunt died. But before passing on, the aunt told Diana some profound wisdom: “If there’s anything you really want to do in life, then do it now, don’t wait until you think the time is right.” Diana knew exactly what she meant! It was then she set out to achieve two more goals.
Reviving her 35-year old dream of owning her own Excalibur was one goal and after intense research, she imported a shiny white Excalibur motorcar. Learning the intricacies of importing a foreign car, then converting it, was difficult, but finding an appropriate honest mechanic to do the conversion while that complying with state and federal laws was even more so. It was all done successfully.
The south side of Chicago was a terrifying place to live in 1969, particularly for a young couple from Adelaide. The husband studying at the University of Chicago. The race riots of the late’60s were still fresh in the memory…
Cher owned one, so has Rod Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, George C. Scott and Steve McQueen. It’s a vehicle that could boast ‘limousine to the stars’ and has jaw-dropping appeal.
Today if she is not driving “Agatha” to get a coffee, you might find her utilizing ‘Agatha’ in some unique static way to assist a charity or to help other needy people in the community.
Reflecting back on those poor days in Chicago, Diana says, “everyone needs a goal no matter how silly it may seem at the time – a goal can be the fuel and force which propels you forward.” You can read more about the Excalibur here.
Now it was the right time to begin the other long time goal that of writing a book.
Without the earlier different work experiences and the fortitude she gained from those, Diana says she could not have pursued writing ‘Wrapping It Up – The Ultimate Guide’ with the same degree of zeal she had because the subject was so difficult.
How to “wrap up” a deceased person’s home is not a subject or topic of discussion commonly found in schools or at many dinner tables around Australia.
When Diana Todd-Banks’ mother died and Diana was left to clean up her home, she found 31 pairs of spectacles, 35 pairs of leather gloves, 29 identical cream blouses and 51 pairs of expensive Ferragamo shoes.
Upon hearing of her mother’s death in 1998, a grieving Diana Todd-Banks flew from Cairns to her mother’s home in Adelaide almost overwhelmed by the task before her – clearing her mother’s house.
During the dark days of living with chronic fatigue syndrome, never did I think I would recover, let alone have a life again.
As the Baby Boomers steadily approach their final years, it is inevitable that many are going to be left with the task of ‘wrapping up’ their homes and their lives.
Anyone who has undertaken that task, says Diana, understands that packing up before and after the death of a loved one has died, is an intensely emotional, difficult and unpredictable life experience.
Despite the diversity of her past, Diana says there are still more chapters of life yet to experience and she is working on those. Friends today say of Diana that her life has been filled with surprising, nerve wracking and exciting chapters and they wonder what the future chapters will hold!