Born in Portland Oregon in 1933, Diane Lee Burdick was the only child of Bill, a jack-of-all-trades Canadian immigrant, and Elna Jean, an Oregon-born portrait artist. Diane's maternal great-grandmother Mary Alice was born in 1864, while her parents were travelling west in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail. From these humble beginnings, she inherited a knack for ingenuity in solving problems, a flair for artistry, and a love of adventure.
Shortly after her graduation from Washington High School, she was married. For one year, until it was amicably annulled, her name was Diane Johnson. At age 19, newly divorced and in search of adventure, she moved to Los Angeles, hoping to get work in the movies or television. That dream was cut short when an LA police officer contacted her to relay the news that her father had drowned in the Willamette River. She packed up and returned to Portland to care for her widowed mother.
In her early 20s, while taking classes at Portland State University and working as a copywriter at Portland radio stations KEX and KXL, she gave birth to her first child, Kevin, in 1955, and raised him as a single mother. Two years later, she met Jerry Weigler, a Yale law student and Air Force officer who fell in love with this tall, beautiful, smart woman and became utterly enchanted by her sweet little boy. He proposed, they eloped, and her name became Diane Weigler. Jerry immediately adopted Kevin as his son, and Diane soon gave birth to three more children: Sally, in 1958, Will (nicknamed Chaz), in 1959, and Benjamin, in 1960.
Early in their marriage they lived in New Haven, Connecticut. While Jerry was finishing Law School, Diane worked as an on-camera TV personality on WNHC-TV. Under the name Diane Lee, she presented weather reports and current events for their program “Town Crier.” In 1959, she spent several weeks as the unbeatable champion on the New York TV Quiz show “Top Dollar” (a forerunner of “Wheel of Fortune”).
They purchased a small home in Cedar Mill, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Portland. Their children grew up surrounded by fruit and nut trees, with a small woodland forest abutting their back yard, and a menagerie of pets.
By the late 1960s, she felt she needed more in her life and ended the marriage. With only a high school diploma and a few university credits, she got work driving a school bus for Catlin Gabel, a private school in Portland. She was so well-liked by the staff and administrators that often, when an elementary school teacher called in sick, she was asked to cover their classes for the day. The students loved her. When a position opened for a new 5th Grade teacher, the school bumped her to the front of the long line of applicants and gave her the job. For five years at Catlin Gabel, Diane created a haven for her students. Inspired by the writings and work of the new wave of radical educators, and drawing on her own intuition, she found innovative approaches to encourage her students (and her own children) to reach for their full potential. There is a (probably apocryphal) story that a visitor once came to her classroom and saw the utter pandemonium of unrestrained 10-year-olds running wildly around the room with no apparent supervision, all of them laughing and chattering away while working on their various projects. The visitor said to her, “You sure have a lot of patience.”
Diane replied, “I prefer to call them students.”
Her unconventional techniques ultimately led to unresolvable conflicts with some of the other staff at the school, and she was asked to leave midway through the year. Almost immediately, the parents of many of her students from the private school began to reach out to her. They had seen how their children had been thriving emotionally and academically in her classroom and they proposed that if she were to open her own school, they would happily pull their kids out of Catlin Gabel and enroll them in her school. By that time, she had moved with her children to a three-story, 1907 house on Kearney Street in Northwest Portland. She opened her alternative school in her home with ten students enrolled.
Before long, other young people began showing up at her door. Teenagers, some of whom had once been her students, began to stop by to ask if they could live there. They and their friends found a level of freedom that they didn’t have under their own parents’ roofs. At the house on Kearney Street, these young people, along with several adults and a single mother with two small children, found a sense of community that they had been searching for.
Over the course of a few years, thirty-six people called this place their home. Diane saw herself as a conduit, encouraging everyone to step up into making it work collectively. At the same time, she was on a personal path of self-learning, mapping out what her role in this life of expanding consciousness could be. She read voraciously, as she had always done, but now turned her attention to writers like Carlos Castaneda, Ram Dass, Krishnamurti, Adele Davis, and Frances Moore Lappé. She frequently acknowledged her gratitude to “The Great Whomever” and with a smile, referred to the presence of “The Cosmic Choreographer.” She often encapsulated all of what she was learning into its essence: “pay attention.” In the preface to one of her unpublished manuscripts, she wrote: “In my elation at the wonder and order of things, I want to share. I shout, ‘Look at this. See this. Feel it. Hear it.’ And perhaps I speak too loudly.”
Peter Caddy (the co-founder of Findhorn) felt the universe was held together with “Divine Economy”: perfect and elegant synchronicity. This idea caught on among the residents and they created a new name for the Kearney Street House, calling it “The First Cosmic Bank of Divine Economy, Unlimited.” The idea was that the Cosmic Bank is always open for karmic deposits, and also for withdrawals whenever they were needed.
Diane lived in a continual state of change. She described different eras of her life as “movies” and, as much as she relished the moment she was in, she was forever curious to see what her next movie would be. After a few years, The Cosmic Bank movie came to a slow fade out. For the better part of a year, she joined a community of back-to-the-land folks living in the hills in Southern Oregon near Dillard, teaching their children in a tiny one-room schoolhouse.
Upon returning to Portland she purchased a 1959 International Harvester Metro delivery truck and outfitted its interior as a place where she could live. With its soft white color, pleasantly rounded edges, and a front grill shaped like the wings of a butterfly, she named her new travelling home, “Maudie.” In 1978, at the age of 45, Diane embarked on a series of adventures in Maudie, taking with her only her two dogs and a new name for herself. Choosing to reject her maiden and married names, and as a gesture of affection for her life at the Cosmic Bank, she adopted the name of the street of her former home, calling herself Diane Kearney.
For the next several years, Diane Kearney embraced her life as a vagabond in California. Living with her dogs in Maudie, she managed to scrape by on whatever few dollars she could earn doing odd jobs while parked near university campuses (with easy access to gym showers and bathrooms) or staying with friends in Berkeley and San Francisco. By 1979, she had gravitated to Mendocino County in Northern California, first to Point Arena and then on to other towns. Ultimately, it was in Fort Bragg that she found her true calling as a writer. As she learned about the rampant malfeasance and general chicanery in all areas of county and municipal government there, she launched into environmental and political activism by way of writing witty and acerbic letters to the editor of the local paper. She was unrelenting until the newspaper announced their new policy: only one letter would be accepted per person per month. Diane responded by continuing to send in her letters, writing under different aliases. Letters began to appear signed by Shirley U. Geste and C.O. Jones (which, without the periods, spells cojones). By far, though, her favorite nom de guerre was T.R. Factor. The corporations promoting offshore oil rigs and the greed-motivated developers would regularly show up at community meetings and hearings represented by a phalanx of lawyers. They would present their case, believing that they had covered all the bases. And then Diane would step up to point out a flaw in their thinking that had never occurred to them and the rationale for their project would collapse. They learned that, as much as they tried to account for all the variables, they were never able to anticipate The Random Factor.
Not everyone appreciated her whimsy. In response to her letter calling attention to some outrageous thuggery by Georgia-Pacific, she received a certified letter from Jack Mulkey, editor of the Advocate News in Fort Bragg. Having learned of her “true” identity, he accused her of hiding under fake names. He compared her to Richard Nixon, saying that she was an absolute liar whose credibility was shot now that she’d been found out. He challenged her to come by his office within the week with identification to prove that there is a real T.R. Factor. Her reply to him by return post merits reprinting in full:
Tsk, tsk, Jack, such overreaction. Did anyone call Samuel Clemens an “absolute liar” when he wrote under the name Mark Twain? Did the British mathematician Charles Dodgson lose “credibility” when, as Lewis Carroll, he wrote Alice in Wonderland? In ancient times, rulers of kingdoms kept court jesters. The jester’s role was to keep the king informed, raising questions in wry amusement of behind-the-scenes maneuverings. Those kings had senses of humor. In the Kingdom of Fort Bragg, the rulers are humorless. They are threatened by truth and react by intimidation. They are cardboard cut-outs, afraid of that breath of fresh air that may topple them.
I am the jester. Who are you?
Diane’s letters caught the attention of Bruce Anderson, editor of the progressive weekly paper The Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA) in Booneville, 50 miles southeast of Fort Bragg. Bruce reached out to Diane, inviting her to be a regular columnist for the AVA. She accepted his offer and began writing her column under the byline, “The Random Factor.” Perhaps the best tribute to her tenure at the AVA is this excerpt from a letter of support that Bruce wrote upon her departure:
For a solid three years, our most talented contributor was a lady calling herself T.R. Factor. Ms. Factor, during this period, was responsible for feature coverage of personalities and events on the intriguing Mendocino Coast, an area with a wide reputation for the eccentricity of its population. T.R. Factor brought her considerable intelligence and lively wit to a variety of subjects and transformed them to highly readable pieces that will be read and re-read for many years to come.
Much of the initial success of the Anderson Valley Advertiser can be directly attributed to the work of T.R. Factor. [She writes with] genuine style, but is also able to pull together complicated stories. T.R. was an impressive researcher able to interpret bureaucratese seemingly at a glance. Her relentlessness put the fear into local government because, for a period of years, T.R. was the only working journalist in the region who followed stories through to their ends.
I could go on in superlatives for some time as to the abilities of this fine reporter. I won’t because her work makes such a recitation redundant.
Diane enjoyed the persona of her nom de plume so much that she decided to take measures to legally change her name to TR Factor (minus the periods). This remained her name until the end of her days.
Another notable outcome of TR’s time with the AVA was her tango with Wanda Tinasky. A self-described bag lady living under a bridge in Mendocino County, Wanda Tinasky sent the AVA scores of hilarious, irreverent letters about local artists, writers, poets, and politicians. After five and a half years, she vanished as enigmatically as she had arrived. Then, following the publication of Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, a novel set in northern California, Bruce Anderson noticed unmistakable similarities to Wanda’s writing style. Speculation began to emerge that Wanda Tinasky’s letters may actually have been written by the reclusive author as a sort of warm up exercise as he was living in the area and working on his manuscript. A series of events led to researcher Fred Gardner teaming up with TR to compile all of the letters in a book. Through his editor, Pynchon flatly denied that he’d written the letters, and Gardner abandoned the project. TR continued work on it, researching and writing hundreds of annotations to all of Tinasky’s obscure references, and self-publishing it as
The Letters of Wanda Tinasky without claiming that Tinasky was Pynchon.
A couple of years later, literary sleuth Don Foster discovered that the real author of the Tinasky letters was an obscure poet and writer named Tom Hawkins.
Nevertheless, the book remains an intriguing read.
By the late 1990s, she settled on the Oregon coast, making her home in Cannon Beach. In this safe and beautiful corner of the world, which she fondly referred to as “Paradise,” her front door was always unlocked and often left open as an invitation to her neighbors and visitors. Here she found a whole community of people whom she loved and who loved her in return. For over twenty years, TR would get together with her pals for the monthly Sunday student scholarship fundraising breakfasts sponsored by the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion, and would join the annual holiday gatherings at the Wave Crest Inn. Whenever she showed up at one of the local coffee shops, she would be welcomed with a hearty hello, pull up a chair, and squeeze in around the table for a gab fest with eight to ten of her good friends. During her time in Cannon Beach, TR was a tireless ally for anyone who came to her in need of help. She was both a caring personal counselor and a skillful strategist, continually stepping up to write effective advocacy letters and offering guidance on how to successfully navigate legal challenges. When she first moved to town, she learned about an effort to stop the Postal Service’s new policy denying city residents their historic right to free PO boxes. She joined the fray, contributing her considerable experience as an activist to the campaign, and the group was ultimately able to restore the no-fee boxes.
TR spent a little time in Seattle before returning to Portland where she found work as an apartment manager while continuing her work as a political activist, championing several environmental issues.
TR’s love of storytelling never abated. She relished the nuance of meaning in words and especially word play, always quick with a pun and fascinated by etymology. Driven by Socrates’ dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” TR wrote hundreds of short essays, autobiographical research notes, a play, and two unpublished book manuscripts. She often joked that, as a Gemini, she always had someone interesting to talk to. She filled boxes with scraps of paper and note cards on which she had used writing as a means to know herself better. These stacks of handwritten and typed memos to herself were part of her lifelong process to unearth meaning from her past and to make sense of how she came to be who she was, including surviving childhood sexual abuse. On page after page, she wrote and wrote and wrote her reflections, musings, and insights on the nature of being human. Her 1979 book, a self-illustrated exploration of perception and action called Choices: A Point of View, is available online open source at tinyurl.com/TR-CHOICES
TR Factor died peacefully in her sleep on May 15, 2023. She is survived by her daughter, Sally DeJesus; son Will Weigler (partner Mia Weinberg); son Ben Weigler (wife Stacie Clark and stepson Joshua Clark-Godinez); grandsons Nicholas DeJesus and Jared Weigler. TR’s eldest son, Kevin Weigler, passed away from cancer on July 21, 2020 in Branson Missouri at the age of 65.
On the beach near Haystack Rock, TR's daughter Sally hosted an informal gathering for a few neighbors and dear friends to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman. The day began with a typical rainy Oregon morning and then, as if TR had submitted her order in advance, the sun broke through the clouds just as the event began. A small beach fire was fuelled by wood that had been salvaged from some of TR's cracked older bookshelves. Those in attendance shared their memories and then made a procession to the water, dropping yellow flower petals as they walked. The ashes of her remains will be scattered in the ocean later in the year.
In a note found after her death, TR had written a final request: because of her own “many lean years,” she would like each of her well-wishers to remember her by “taking a poor person out to dinner and maybe a movie.”