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Diane Doll, a singer, art lover and hip grandma, dies at 93

Diane Doll Taken July, 2019.

Diane Doll Taken July, 2019. Credit: Doll Family

When a granddaughter surprised her one day, asking "What's sex?" Diane Doll didn't flinch, didn't balk, didn't get flustered.

Knowing the girl was too young for any real discussion, Doll looked her granddaughter in the eye and said: "It's a very fine clothing store on Fifth Avenue."

"She was quick, always quick," her daughter, former longtime Newsday researcher Lisa Doll-Bruno, said this week, explaining how her mom turned an awkward moment into a quip about Saks Fifth Avenue. "She just had such a good spin on life."

Born March 3, 1928, in Queens, the only child of Paul and Marion Cinquini, Diane Doll died in a Long Island assisted living facility June 3. She was 93.

Doll, who lived most of her adult life in Bethpage, leaves three children — Henry, of Port Jefferson Station; Paul and wife Jill, of Silver Springs, Maryland; and Lisa and husband Danny Bruno, of Lewes, Delaware — as well as nine grandchildren.

Growing up in Queens, Diane Doll graduated St. Agnes Academy in College Point, then studied journalism at New York University.

An aspiring singer, as a teen she was the personal assistant to 1940s sensation Joan Edwards, who was the vocalist for Paul Whiteman and his orchestra and star of the old-time radio show "Your Hit Parade." Because of her role, Doll often mingled with stars of the day: Frank Sinatra, Dick Todd, Johnny Mercer and bassist Bob Haggart.

"My mom was so naive and Joan kept a watchful eye over her," daughter Lisa said, adding: "They stayed pretty good friends for a long time."

Doll loved to sing jazz and other 1940s and 1950s music: Sinatra, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney. She even cut a demo record.

But she eventually put aside a career in music, swept off her feet by Carl Doll.

A GI who was a staff sergeant in the Battle of the Bulge, Carl Doll came back from World War II to enroll at NYU, where he found himself in the same journalism class as Diane.

"She'd show up late for class every day, walk across the room," daughter Lisa said, "and my father just fell for her."

Having watched her grand entrances, Carl decided to ask Diane out on a date. Though she was seeing someone else at the time, she said yes.

The two got engaged on just their third date and got married a handful of months later — on Dec. 28, 1946, at Tavern on the Green at Central Park in Manhattan.

"She always told me how she'd wished she'd met my father later," Doll-Bruno said, noting that her mom gave up a promising music career.

Still, her daughter said, that didn't keep the two from having a very successful marriage.

First, the couple moved to Astoria, where Carl Doll worked manufacturing pianos.

Later, they moved to Bethpage, Carl taking a job with Suffolk County BOCES, Diane taking work at the John F. Kennedy Middle School on Broadway, first as an assistant librarian and later in the administrative front office.

Diane sometimes also worked as a substitute teacher. She did the daily rundown of school events and calligraphy for invitations.

Diane helped start, and became a fixture in, the North Bethpage Civic Association.

She also became a painter, working with oil, as she painted a variety of city and country scenes, from woodlands and vases of irises to the Bow Bridge in Central Park.

Mostly, her daughter said, she became the shoulder to cry on for friends and strangers alike.

Condolence cards from former co-workers and friends noted, Doll-Bruno said, the impact Diane Doll had. "One said, 'She made our world wonderful each morning when we faced difficult days with angry parents, students or teachers,' " her daughter said.

Even after her husband of 54 years died in January 2001, Diane Doll put her best face on the situation, bore down and battled on without complaint, her daughter said.

"She was like, 'Well, I've never lived alone, so let's see what that's like,' " Doll-Bruno said. "She was just someone who was always looking for the bright lining."

Alex Doll, of Cutchogue, said her grandmother "found happiness in dance, art, music and travel" and taught her "to appreciate the small things in life."

She said though she used to watch old movies like Singin' in the Rain, and performances by figure skater Sonja Henie, with her grandmother, she was always impressed how current Diane Doll remained. "My grandmother was on the computer and on Facebook," she said, also recalling the first time her grandmother used the word "selfie."

"She faced changes in the world fearlessly and it teaches you, by watching, to participate fearlessly," Alex Doll said. "It's a gift to have that."

As daughter Lisa said of her mother: "She was young and hip and there was nothing old about her. She was just really smart, practical, with a great sense of humor. She listened to countless complaints, but could make everyone forget their troubles."

A memorial service for Diane Doll is scheduled for Saturday at Three Village Church, 322 Main St. (Route 25A), East Setauket.

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