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California and the West

Dog Victim's Passion for Games, Life Recalled

Funeral: Diane Whipple's friends and family remember her as a coach and competitor.

February 02, 2001|KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MORAGA, Calif. — She was a small woman, but she was determined and fast and full of moxie.

That was how more than 400 friends and family members remembered Diane Whipple, who died in a dog attack in San Francisco, during an emotion-filled memorial Thursday night in the chapel of St. Mary's College.

Mourners tried to push thoughts of the brutality of her final moments to the back of their minds. They remembered the good things about a woman who this past year guided St. Mary's to its first season of major college women's lacrosse.

"The first time she saw us play last year, I bet she was probably laughing," player Amy Harms said of her coach. But "she made us a . . . good team . . . driven by love, laughter and a passion to succeed, driven by a woman who was, in every sense of the word, a coach."

Her mother said Whipple brought passion to her job and her life.

"If you could do one favor for Diane for the rest of your life, every day turn to someone you love and say, 'I love you,' " said Penny Whipple-Kelly.

Whipple, 33, was an accomplished athlete known for her enthusiasm and a burning competitiveness that brought her college fame on the lacrosse field and later success as a distance runner.

"She was something to see on the field," said Suzanne Weinberg, head coach of the Penn State women's lacrosse team.

Weinberg was a high school senior when she first saw Whipple play in a college game at Princeton University. She could hardly take her eyes off Whipple, an attacking player who was a study in continuous motion and energy, an All-American whose teams won two NCAA championships in the 1980s. She was one of the top players in Penn State history.

"I watched her and I was just in awe," Weinberg said. "I soon found myself trying to follow her footsteps, as a lot of us did. To this day she is one of the people you associate with Penn State lacrosse."

After college, Whipple, who grew up in Manhasset, N.Y., moved to San Diego. Friends said she eagerly embraced the challenge of exploring a new part of the country. Whipple volunteered to coach a club lacrosse team at UC San Diego, doing so well that she was offered head coaching jobs at large universities looking to establish women's lacrosse programs. Whipple initially resisted the urge to coach full time, said Tracy Mass Yopp, a longtime friend and former college teammate.

"She wanted to continue competing, so she tried to become an Olympic distance runner," said Yopp, who added that over the years Whipple had worked in sales for companies in San Diego and San Francisco.

Whipple didn't achieve Olympic status, but did become an accomplished distance runner, participating in numerous marathons. Her last was in San Diego the week before she died.

Over the last several years, Whipple decided to make coaching a career, and she flourished. She worked as a part-time coach at Menlo School, a small private school in the Bay Area, helping start a program and teaching lacrosse to girls who had never experienced it.

"She gave the game to these girls and they loved it," said Judy Massey, whose daughter Erin played on Whipple's team and is now playing lacrosse at UC Berkeley.

Whipple's enthusiasm inspired her players, Massey said. She would tease and push and joke with them and often was there to listen to their problems.

Last year, Whipple was hired by St. Mary's College in Moraga, a suburb east of San Francisco, to help start a lacrosse team. She guided a first-year team to a .500 season in 2000, and the team improved greatly as the season went on.

"She made a difference in people's lives," Massey said. "This whole thing has just crushed a lot of people."

Whipple died last Friday in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building. Two large dogs bounded toward her about 4 p.m. and police said that one of them, a 123-pound mastiff mix named Bane, bit Whipple's neck. The second dog tore at her clothes.

The dogs had been living with attorneys Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who live in the same building. Knoller was trying to restrain Bane as the attack occurred.

Prosecutors are considering criminal charges against the couple, who authorities say were caring for the dogs at the request of inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison.

On Wednesday night, Noel faxed a 19-page letter to Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan, asserting that Whipple had a hand in provoking the dog, possibly because she might have been wearing a pheromone-based perfume or may have been using steroids. The attorney stated that just before the incident Whipple would not leave the hallway, even after seeing Bane.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Kimberly Guilfoyle scoffed at any suggestion that Whipple was to blame for the attack, and said Noel's account contradicted statements the couple made to police after the incident.

"We are shocked by the letter and we consider the timing in terrible taste, particularly since Diane Whipple's memorial is this evening," Guilfoyle said Thursday.

"I feel so sorry for her friends and family. This is their day to remember her."

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