A near-death experience at a young age left Dianne Brinson with a philosophy of life that has served her well both personally and professionally: “I’m just not willing to be unhappy.” In December 1975, a powerful bomb went off in the baggage area of LaGuardia Airport, killing 11 and injuring 74, including Dianne, then a 24-year Yale Law School student. The still unsolved crime has resonated with her ever since.
Dianne was born in Mississippi, lived all over the Jim Crow South as a child, and finished high school in Durham, NC, with superior grades, a National Merit Scholarship, and tuition to her hometown Duke University, partially paid by her father’s employer, IBM.
Drawn to study math, Dianne discovered it was still too much a man’s world for her. “What I liked about math was problem-solving,” she recalls. “So I thought, ‘what else depends on problem-solving?’” That’s how she settled on the law. Fresh from Yale Law School and her LaGuardia experience, Dianne took a job at a large Atlanta law firm with 80 men and three women. As the newbie female, she was assigned “incredibly boring” work, so she relocated to a firm in Los Angeles but found the work there in health care and hospital law “unfulfilling.”
“Not willing to be unhappy,’ Dianne packed her bags again and headed to Rancho La Puerta, Mexico, for a stint as a fitness instructor, a move that left her parents “dismayed.” But the sabbatical from law proved life-changing, as Dianne discovered she enjoyed teaching.
After returning to Atlanta, Dianne finally found her legal niche. She took a teaching job at Georgia State University College of the Law. On the tenure track, Dianne was expected to publish or perish, which she did with Law Review articles on computer law, then in its infancy.
When Dianne set out for a two-day conference on computer law in San Francisco, she could never have imagined what would happen next: she would meet the love of her life, one of the conference speakers, Mark Radcliffe.
With Mark due to make partner in a large Silicon Valley firm and Dianne on the brink of tenure, the timing of a long distance relationship couldn’t have been worse, but the couple made it work and married without settling which one of them would move. California won.
The couple co-authored three books on internet law, and Dianne did volunteer work, but they both knew Silicon Valley would not be their forever home. Sonoma County beckoned, as Mark is a serious wine connoisseur, and Dianne has a deep personal connection to Sea Ranch.
When the Nun’s fire hit in October, one of only two Oakmont homes to burn was the one Dianne and Mark were poised to move into along with their beloved rescue dogs Billy and Nikki. “It was devastating,” Dianne says.
They rebuilt and finally made a move from Silicon Valley in Feb. of 2020. Dianne is currently putting her problem-solving skills to work for the Community Grants Committee for Impact 100 and the Sonoma Land Trust Board of Trustees. “This is our chosen home,” Dianne says. “We have no family here, no jobs that require us to be here. This is where we want to be.”