By Trisha L. Foncannon
They had a love affair that sounded like one of the nine romance novels she published during the latter half of their 40-year marriage.
When they met, Diana Markham was a 20-year-old product of generations of culture and higher education who loved to travel. Gary Stewart descended from horse thieves.
They shared a love for life and the arts that carried them through years spent raising their children and enriching the Terre Haute theater community.
Their bond gave them the courage to face their toughest challenge: Her 19-year-battle with multiple sclerosis that claimed her life Saturday afternoon. She was 60.
"It's been a super marriage, a really great love affair," Gary Stewart said.
Stewart described his wife as a curious person who loved nothing better than to sit and listen to people tell their stories.
Her love for storytelling spanned several artistic genres, from children's books to romantic novels and playwriting.
She was one of the first four authors of romantic fiction published in the United States under Silhouette publishing in the 1970s, Stewart said. Together, she and her husband published several novels and helped form Indiana State University's theater department.
"Her mind was constantly working," he said. "She just had an absolutely commanding mastery of the English language."
Friends described Diana Stewart as a caring and considerate person who, even after her illness left her bedridden four years ago, worried more about others' problems instead of her own.
"If you talked to her, you would never know there was anything wrong," said Toni Roloff, friend of 20 years and secretary of the ISU theater department. "She was always cheerful, upbeat."
Lew Hackleman worked with Diana and Gary Stewart for ISU's Summer Stage for more than 20 years.
"She was one of the most positive-thinking people I've ever known," Hackleman said. "She was very ill for a long time, but she never complained. She was always interested in other people's problems other than her own."
Roloff said Stewart continued to work with the ISU theater department until last summer, despite her illness.
"She was never one to say 'Why me?' " Roloff said. "She continued on and took life in stride."