The Ghosts of
Diana Lee Whatley

by Patricia Janda

"I could do that,” Diana Lee’s mother said with a sigh, as she placed her latest library book on the end table. “What?” her daughter asked. “I could write a book like that.”

Diana Lee had heard that retort before. Her mother, a prolific reader, playfully teased her daughter about writing. “Why don’t you write a book?” her mother prodded.

“I’m an assistant cinematographer, not a writer,” replied Diana. “Besides, I don’t have the time.”

“If it’s important to you, you have to try,” said her mother. Actually, Diana Lee had put a lot of effort into writing. She wrote quite a few pages of a novel, but it was not moving along as quickly as she had hoped. She decided to give her love of writing another try. Thus, ten years of writing began. “It’s a learning process,” she said. “I learned from the mistakes I made in previous writing.” It was all worth it, however, because eventually Thurber’s Light was born.

Diana Lee Whatley has lived in Fort Myers almost all her life. She is a rare breed, a true Florida native. After attending Cypress Lake High School, she graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in both Studio Art and Anthropology.

The love of travel has taken her to various places, the mountains of East Tennessee a favorite among them. Drawing and painting are among her hobbies, with a special love of nature and marine life. The position she held for several years in the film and video industry provided many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors she loves so much. She is now employed by the Lee County Library System.

“My novel is fiction,” said Diana Lee. “It is based on fact, but I’ve added a bit of mystery and suspense. Fiction is drawing from your own experiences, dreams and desires and, as everyone who knows me will attest, I have always had a special place in my heart for the Sanibel Lighthouse.”

“I never finished my first book,” she remarked. “I put it aside after many attempts when a television mini-series called ‘Legendary Light House’ piqued my interest. Intrigued by the film, I started research on lighthouses all over the country and was fascinated with the results.”

Thurber’s Light
(PublishAmerica) takes place in a ghostly lighthouse setting, based in the U.S. Southeast. The novel spans two time periods, melding today with the late 1930s. Offering a blend of action, criminal intrigue, romance, and a dose of old fashioned values, the story is spiced with a cast of varied personalities. Central to the novel is Darcy Vornack, a woman who accepts a personal challenge and is determined to prove a point. She comes in contact with Martin Thurber, a light keeper. He is bound by his sense of honor, his complete commitment to the Lighthouse Service, his struggle for love, and the challenge the community is facing to save the lighthouse.

Diana Lee explained that we take so many things for granted in life—lighthouses among them. We forget that light keepers defended our land in times of war. When others would flee, they did not. They lived solitary lives and were isolated for months, enduring great hardships; all done with the safety of others—people they never saw or met their main concern. Many think lighthouses are permanent, but they’re not.

Citizens everywhere are fighting to keep the historic structures standing, as they are a reminder of the values people have had.

In 1972, the Coast Guard began to discontinue its lighthouse use. Fishermen protested and, in some cases, the light remained active. Such is the case with Lee County’s Sanibel Island. Many others were destroyed by raging storms or torn down because of disrepair. Without the efforts of volunteer organizations, more would be gone forever. Some think they are not necessary, but even with radar and satellite available in our modern day, lighthouses have their place in our lives. In a land where everything is new, pieces of our past become an asset.

Lee County has three lighthouses; Boca Grande, located on the southern tip of Gasparilla Island at Gasparilla Island State Park, and a few miles away, a second lighthouse in town, plus Sanibel Island.
Round Island, Mississippi’s lighthouse is in the process of being rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Georges in1998. Interestingly, the lighthouse buildings were also destroyed on the same day, September 27, 1906, ninety-two years earlier.

Cape St. George Lighthouse, off the coast of Apalachicola Bay at the tip of the Florida Panhandle, is another in dire need of repair. All the concrete and fiberglass rebar are gone. The good news is the tower still appears to be plumb. Without adequate funds raised by caring citizens, it will surely be lost in a tropical storm. It’s a disturbing and helpless feeling that such a treasure may be gone forever.

“I’m now re-editing my first novel,” said Diana Lee. “It’s entitled To the Star With Love and has a carry-over character, Troy, from ‘Thurber’s Light’. I’m hoping my books will be enjoyed by many, but also let people know there aren’t many structures that impart such a place in our history as lighthouses. To me, they represent hope. Without hope we are like an ancient vessel without direction, far out to sea on a cloudy night. We need the light of hope to guide our boat…the ship of human spirit. That is the legend of the lighthouse – to save the beacon for generations to come.” •

from the September-October 2004 issue

"I have always had a special
place in my heart for the
Sanibel Lighthouse."