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Charity Presence Attests to Diana's Altruistic Legacy

By Eric Lipton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 1997; Page A26

LONDON, Sept. 6—In a historic church filled with celebrities and political powers who came together to honor the late mother of an heir to the British throne, a seat behind the royal family was occupied today by the leader of a little-known group seeking to eradicate leprosy.

To those acquainted with state funerals and royal protocol, such seating arrangements might have been incomprehensible. But to Tony Lloyd, who had traveled around the world with Princess Diana to raise awareness about a disease that many thought had disappeared thousands of years ago, it made eminent sense.

"It was entirely appropriate," said Lloyd, one of more than 400 representatives of British charities to take part in Diana's funeral. "She has suffered so much rejection and betrayal that she identified with people who had suffered in the similar way. It was right for us all to be there."

Diana will be remembered for a great many things in this country -- her beauty, her marital struggles, her violent death -- but it has been clear all week that her role as a patron of dozens of charities and cultural groups may be one of her most lasting legacies.

In the British royal tradition, any princess or queen plays a leadership role in a long list of nonprofit groups, typically taking the title of patron. But Diana's involvement was much more than a name on a letterhead. She is credited with helping put several British charities on the map and playing an internationally important role in drawing attention to AIDS, the dangers of land mines and even the continued suffering caused by leprosy.

What Diana realized, several charity leaders said, is that the same intense media attention that dogged her could, if properly handled, produce results far more important than increased tabloid sales.

Shake hands with an AIDS patient, as she did in 1987, and photographs seen around the world remind the public that the disease cannot be spread by casual contact and that those who are afflicted deserve respect.

`Unfashionable Issues'

"Over and over again, she used the publicity that surrounded her to draw attention to otherwise unfashionable issues," said Lisa Mangan, spokeswoman for Centrepoint, a London nonprofit agency that assists homeless children. "People would be skeptical, saying it was self-publicity. But here was the most famous woman in the world, taking time to talk to our youths, who other people might have just passed by in the street."

Diana's involvement with a charity almost always translated rapidly into a higher profile and fund-raising capacity.

In January, when Diana traveled to Angola to visit clinics run by the International Committee of the Red Cross for victims of land mines, she was photographed chatting with a boy who had lost his leg in an explosion. The effect was immediate: Between January and the end of July, the Red Cross raised $760,000 for its anti-land mine effort, three times the amount contributed during the first two years of the campaign. This week alone, more than $330,000 has been committed to the cause in Diana's name.

With the Leprosy Mission that Lloyd leads, Diana journeyed to hospitals in India, Nepal and Zimbabwe, each time with journalists in tow, raising the profile of the disease most common in the developing world and again pulling in a surge of donations.

And earlier this year there was the sale Diana organized of her most famous gowns, which raised $3.25 million for AIDS and cancer charities she supported.

"Before her involvement, the success we had -- both in raising money and in public awareness -- does not really compare," said Yad Luthra, a British Red Cross official who traveled with Diana to Angola. "She is irreplaceable, in many ways. How we go forward, we have not figured out."

At one point, Diana was involved with nearly 100 causes, from the British Lung Foundation to the Middlesex-based Chickenhead Theatre Company. But following her divorce last year from Prince Charles and the removal of her royal status, she decided to limit her efforts to a handful of groups: Centrepoint, the National AIDS Trust, Great Ormond Street children's hospital, the Royal Marsden Hospital for cancer patients, the English National Ballet and the British Red Cross.

Diversity of Interests

During today's ceremony, five representatives from most of the 100 groups she once was associated with were present, marching in the funeral procession just behind the carriage carrying her casket as it moved slowly though the city streets.

The diversity of Diana's interests was plainly evident in the group. Alongside light-footed ballet dancers came young children in wheelchairs who suffer from a genetic skin disorder, homeless children, elderly people who walked with canes.

Leaders of the charities said today that what affected them most was the respect and admiration they felt for Diana, built over the years as they watched her invest time again and again in their causes. She sent cards to sick children, tracked the progress of AIDS patients she had met years earlier, and brought her two sons along on a private visit to homeless children at an emergency shelter.

"When Diana came into the hospital, it was not the conveyor-belt visit you expect from someone in her position," said Rachel Mead, a ward sister in the breast cancer unit at Royal Marsden Hospital in London, which Diana frequently visited. "She would go straight for the patients, sit on their beds, hold their hands, talk with them."

With her burial complete, the charities Diana helped lead now must begin the task of figuring out how to proceed without her. Some, like the National AIDS Trust, already have announced that she will remain their patron.

A memorial fund set up in her name should help the transition, as it already is pulling in millions of dollars to be divided among the causes. But some already are predicting there will be squabbling over how to split the money, which may be the last sizable financial support gained through Diana's name.

"Her work must continue; we must see that it does," said Gavin Hart, a spokesman for the National AIDS Trust who walked in the procession. "But no one can fill her shoes. No one will want to try to, either."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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