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Diane O. Ward, 64, a direct descendant of prominent Underground Railroad figure Josiah Henson, died Sunday (Jan. 17, 1999) in Erie County Medical Center after a lengthy illness.

Henson, who escaped from Maryland to Canada via Buffalo in 1830 with his wife and four children, was credited by author Harriet Beecher Stowe with being the model for Uncle Tom in her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In a preface to the 1858 edition of his autobiography, she wrote that she had taken much of her material for Uncle Tom from his experiences.

Unlike Uncle Tom, however, Henson did not die at the hands of an evil plantation owner. Instead, he settled in Canada, founded a colony near Dresden, Ont., and lived to age 94. He returned to the South several times and reportedly led 118 slaves to freedom. He was Mrs. Ward's great-great-grandfather.

Born Diane Plummer in Buffalo, she attended School 8 and Fosdick-Masten High School and graduated from East High School. She also attended Bryant & Stratton Business Institute.

She worked for many years as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service and Graphic Controls Corp. She and her husband, Anthony, also operated a taxi and trucking business for 43 years.

She was a member of New Covenant United Church of Christ. Active as a volunteer for community organizations, she was especially devoted to the care of the sick and less fortunate. She also traveled widely and had friends around the world.

She and her husband were married in 1952. He died in 1995.

Surviving are a daughter, Berthalene Ward Webb; three sons, Anthony L., Tyrone N. of Louisville, Ky., and Trent of Las Vegas; three sisters, Patricia Long of Detroit, Loretta Johnson and Joan Mitchell; a brother, Donald R. Plummer of Detroit; 13 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Services will follow a wake at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in New Covenant United Church of Christ, 459 Clinton St. Burial will be in St. Matthew's Cemetery, West Seneca.

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