Ed Grisamore

She lost her son at age 5, but now she’s helping other children

Dianna Glymph is pictured in her office at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia. She has a photo on the wall of her son, Jordan, who died of cancer when he was 5 years old.
Dianna Glymph is pictured in her office at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia. She has a photo on the wall of her son, Jordan, who died of cancer when he was 5 years old. edgrisamore@gmail.com

Life is a series of detours. We head down one road, then suddenly the signs instruct us to turn left and bear right onto another.

Unexpected challenges, unintended circumstances and heartfelt callings can re-direct our maps and re-calculate our GPS without warning.

Dianna Glymph has been at the helm of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia for the past 18 years. Her detours have come in the form of a changed career path, the death of a young son and a literal detour through downtown Macon during the flood of 1994.

They led her here, and they have kept her in a place where she has made a difference.

She graduated from college with plans to attend medical school. Instead, she married and started a family. Her husband, Joe, traveled with his job, and it was important for her to be a stay-at-home mom with her two oldest sons. The family lived in Tampa, Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Lilburn before moving back to Tampa.

Her youngest son, Jordan, was born in 1983. At age 3, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and given zero chance of survival. The cancer paralyzed him from the waist down, and he required round-the-clock care. He died in 1989. He was 5 years old.

“During the time he was ill, he was in and out of the hospital,’’ Dianna said. “My husband had to travel, so my family and neighbors literally gave up their time and moved into my house.’’

Jordan often would be hospitalized a week at a time for his treatments. Dianna’s support system would step up and take care of everything from driving her older children to school to ironing her husband’s shirts.

“We couldn’t have done all that, and my two oldest boys could not have continued to grow and prosper, without these extra people coming into their lives,’’ she said.

It was a lesson in caring she embraced after Jordan died. Looking for ways to help her deal with her grief, she became involved with a Boy Scout food drive in Tampa. The scouts partnered with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the campaign. Enough canned food was collected to cover the entire grass field at Tampa Stadium.

Not long after that, she went to work part time with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She didn’t want anything permanent. Her sons still needed her.

She soon realized Big Brothers/Big Sisters recruited mentors “very much like the way family and friends had provided for my boys” when Jordan was sick.

“My husband and I believe everything you do in life prepares you for the next thing,’’ she said.

She rose through the ranks from receptionist to bookkeeper to chief financial officer. She spent nine years in that position before taking a job as chief economic officer with the Advocacy Resource Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

Dianna came to Macon to lead the Big Brothers agency in September 2000. But you might say she washed ashore here six years earlier.

Until then, Macon had been nothing more than a green exit sign on the interstate the Glymphs would pass on their way to visit family in South Carolina.

But when the waters rose following Tropical Storm Alberto in July 1994, and the Ocmulgee River swelled more than double its normal flood stage, they found themselves diverted on a serendipitous detour around downtown Macon.

“We were following everybody and went by the Hay House and all those beautiful homes,’’ she said. “We kept saying, ‘Oh my gosh, look at that!’ We have always loved historic homes.’’

When she interviewed for the job in Macon, she arrived a day early to scout and re-visit the territory.

“I roamed around and looked at the neighborhoods,’’ she said. “I fell in love with the city. I could see what was going on downtown. I had a good feeling about it.’’

She hit the ground running. The new gal in town immediately immersed herself in community events.

“I went to everything the chamber did — every bus trip, every rubber chicken dinner,’’ she said. “I wore my name tag everywhere I went because nobody knew who I was, and nobody knew a lot about Big Brothers.’’

The national office of Big Brothers/Big Sisters recently “rebranded” itself with a bold, new logo. Locally, the agency now serves 15 counties and more than 350 young people — with another 250 on a waiting list. The mission statement is to “provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”

The local chapter is in need of male volunteers. Young men make up two-thirds of the waiting list, and adult men comprise only about one-fourth of the volunteer force.

Dianna has been a “big sister’’ for the past 13 years. The young lady she mentors is legally blind and now lives with the Glymphs. Her father is in prison, and her mother died five years ago. She will graduate from high school this spring.

Dianna figured she might stay in Macon for five years. Now she’s closing in on 20.

“You feel where God is leading you, and this felt right,’’ she said. “I just didn’t realize God would keep me here for 18 years.’’

Her story reminds me of a quote often attributed to Will Rogers, the great philosopher and humanitarian.

“I’ve traveled a long way,’’ he said. “And some of the roads weren’t paved.’’

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.