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Sitting in a booth at Beverly Hills Grill a few Sundays ago, Jonell Linskey worried she wouldn’t recognize her dinner guest when she arrived.

After all, it had been almost 40 years since she’d taught Margaret Dimond religious studies at Mercy High School.

Linskey retired last summer after an astonishing 47 years at the all-girls Catholic high school in Farmington Hills, a community she described as “a very close family, just a wonderful environment in which to relate, learn and grow.”

Back in 1974, Dimond was then a 17-year-old junior, a self-described “class clown” who insists she spent more time in “quarantine” than in class. For all Linskey could remember, she was one in a sea of a thousand young faces.

But Dimond would never forget “Miss Linskey.” When word got out that the veteran dean of students was retiring (Linskey taught religious studies for the first 10 years), Dimond sent an email to the high school.

“Hello, please pass this along to Miss Linskey,” she wrote. “My name is Margaret Dimond, class of 1976. Took your class in religion (in the room next to the cafeteria and sat on the floor) and we discussed Kubler Ross and the stages of grief. That was a change for my future career, life and professional pursuits. I entered the field of social work, did my undergraduate thesis at St. Mary’s College on grief, did graduate work in Oncology and look where I am working today. Simply put, you changed my life.”

Margaret Dimond, Ph.D.

President Karmanos Cancer Hospital

Just then, out the restaurant window, a dark-haired woman in black slacks and a Patagonia down jacket walked up the sidewalk. “I thought, well, of course, that’s Margaret Dimond,” Linskey said.

During the next two hours, they reminisced and got reacquainted, at points reversing roles as Dimond shared her life story, not all of it rosy.

Mostly Dimond, who left her post as CEO of the McLaren Medical Group to head Karmanos Cancer Hospital last February, wanted to thank her “lifetime mentor.” (“I can’t say this more emphatically,” Dimond told me. “No one believed in me until I had Miss Linskey.”)

“What really resonated with me were the discussions we had on death and dying,” Dimond said over a glass of pinot grigio. “It really ignited the passion and focus that I’ve devoted my entire career to.”

As a senior at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, Dimond followed an oncology patient during the last four months of her life. At Boston College (where she earned her first of two master’s degrees, followed by a doctorate), Dimond talked her way into a placement at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “They said to me: ‘You are not old enough to deal with death and dying.’ And I said: ‘Are you kidding? I’ve been interested in this since 1974.’ So, I started quoting all the stuff I learned from Miss Linskey and everything I’d read and I got the position.”

Dimond also credited Linskey with “preparing me for an early loss I didn’t know I was going to have.”

When Dimond was 26, her parents’ house caught fire: the result of a combination of faulty wiring and a wood paneled den. Her mother suffered third-degree burns on her hands and face. Her father passed away three months later.

Five years ago, Dimond took on a wholly unexpected labor of love. After a family hardship, she was awarded permanent guardianship of her grand-nephew. Christopher Dimond is almost 10 years old now, a fourth-grader at Holy Name Catholic School in Birmingham.

And because Dimond’s 90-year-old mother recently suffered a stroke, she has moved into Dimond’s house in Beverly Hills. Somehow, Dimond takes it all — juggling the new job all while caregiving — in stride. “At least, I can put them in front of the same TV because they both like SpongeBob,” she quips.

By the end of dinner, Linskey was in awe of Dimond’s accomplishments (who wouldn’t be?), and Dimond was trying to convince her painfully humble mentor she wasn’t the only student so inspired.

“I feel bad that I never contacted you and told you my story until now,” Dimond said. “I just wasn’t one of those good girls who attend those teas or auctions.”

Miss Linskey laughed. “Oh, but what a gift you have,” she said.

“Ah,” said Dimond, without skipping a beat. “But you’re the one who started all this!”

mkeenan@detroitnews.com

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