RIP: The Rev. Rebecca Willoughby Dinan

Posted May 15, 2013

The Rev. Rebecca Lynn Willoughby (Becky) Dinan, an Episcopal priest known for her creative preaching, teaching and spiritual guidance, died of cancer at her home in Northport, Maine on April 11, 2013. She was 70. She was preceded in death by her husband of nearly 40 years, Joseph Dinan.

Becky was born in Appalachia, Virginia in 1942. She was stricken with polio at the age of four, which left her with an impaired left leg, but her response to this challenge revealed the courageous spirit and determination that characterized her life . Growing up in rural Virginia in a loving family, Becky developed as a writer and teacher. She pursued her studies at Radford University, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 1963. Called to the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, she began her preparation at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1980, she was ordained deacon and priest by the Rt. Rev. David K. Leighton, Diocese of Maryland.

Becky served the church as a chaplain at Goucher College, the Johns Hopkins University Hospital and as an assistant priest at Trinity Church, Towson, MD and Grace Episcopal Church, Elkridge, MD. In addition, Becky served as an adjunct professor of preaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. Several of her sermons are etched in the memories of the students and colleagues who experienced them. In one, she came into the sanctuary dressed as a cleaning lady. It was Maundy Thursday, the traditional day for the washing of the feet. Becky started her sermon loudly proclaiming “I don’t wash nobodies feet”, as she kicked the pail and mop she had with her. She had everyone’s attention. After moving to Maine, Becky continued her ministry of spiritual companionship.

During her years in Maine post-polio syndrome limited her physical activities and caused her much physical anguish. She met this late-life challenge as she had the earlier challenges in her life – with courage and defiance. She departed this life unbroken, ready for, as she told her brother Ron, “my next mission.”

Remembering Becky, the Rev. Kingsley Smith commented to the Alumni Office of Virginia Seminary: “She was a women of sensitivity, cheerfulness, compassion and courage, never allowing the polio which afflicted her from childhood to limit her. I was her mentor, and then she became mine.” A close colleague and friend, Nicki Ridenour of Towson, remembers “the depth of her faith and her obedience to her Lord, her support, her willingness to speak her mind and her wonderful laugh and sense of humor. She will be missed!”

In addition to her husband Joe, Becky was predeceased by her father, Harry Willoughby and her sister-in-law Judy Willoughby. She is survived by her mother Ruth Willoughby of Suffolk, VA, her brother Ron Willoughby of Riner, VA, her niece Kathy Willoughby of West Palm Beach, FL, her nephew Rick Willoughby and his wife Beth of Floyd, VA, her grand-niece Wesley Slack of West Palm Beach, FL, and special friend and caregiver Bonnie Young of Swanville, ME.

The Rt. Rev. Ted Gulick will preside at a memorial service at The Church of St. Clement in Alexandria, VA on May 17. There will be a private memorial service for Becky at her home in Maine, and the family will scatter Becky’s and Joe’s ashes in the field behind their home.