Ana-Maria Dias was from her very first days on the planet a powerful spirit full of energy and self determination. She was an intellectual, with deep curiosities, a never-ending drive to understand truth, and interests in topics ranging from design to mechanism to mind. She was ever interested in helping others, and often did so with impressive investments in efforts on behalf of people and organizations. She was known to always be available to help, and to share her reflections and insights. She was the best best friend someone could ever hope to have in a best friend. She was a close sister to her two sisters and brother and just as close a sister to her nieces and nephews.
Ana-Maria was the consummate hostess, who loved bringing out plate after plate of food. She dedicated hours to volunteering in her daughters’ schools. And, gifted with an eye for the artistic, she staged her own house for sale, and then reused the pieces she bought to stage the old house in her new home with stunning results.
Ana-Maria, a devoted mother and community volunteer, died along with her husband and two daughters in a car accident while vacationing in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. She was 50.
Ana-Maria was born January 1, 1961 on S. Jorge, in the Azores Islands. When she was just a year old, her father, who had traveled to the United States to find work, became ill and her mother traveled there to care for him. Dias, who was left in the care of her aunt, spent years separated from her parents. “I think that really instilled a strength in her,” says her niece, Carla Francisco.
The family eventually moved back and forth between the Azores and the former Portuguese colony of Angola. When Ana-Maria was a teenager, Angola was in the midst of a civil war. Ana-Maria’s sister-in-law, Cindy Howard, remembers Ana-Maria telling her that she was alone with her father when the fighting came to within a mile of their home. Ana-Maria’s father told her that she had just an hour to decide what they would take when they fled. They never saw that house again.
She came to the United States and the family settled in California’s Napa Valley. Dias finished high school and then went to California State University, San Luis Obispo, where she earned a degree in Electronic Engineering. Her first job after graduating was as an engineer at the American Rocket Company, an early startup in the realm of commercial rocketry. As a rocket scientist, she was entrusted with the responsibility for making decisions about the post-launch destruction of the experimental rockets being developed by the company should there be a failure. Following her work as a rocket engineer and rocketry entrepreneur, she worked in the realm of electronics, including a long-term position with Philips Semiconductor.
Her true loves were always books, art, and learning new things about people and the world. It was not out of the ordinary to see Ana Maria porting a large book on human psychology or models of cognition, and talking with her family and friends about the wonders of the functioning of the brain—and with excitement and a twinkle in the eye—mention, “wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to pursue these ideas in graduate school, and do research to learn new things how the brain works.” Even while pursuing her interest in electronics, Ana-Maria’s love of books led her to taking a part-time position at a bookstore, helping people with finding books. She kept up on her pursuit of learning, and even while mothering, took additional postgraduate courses in architectural design, taking out time to build beautiful scale models of structures she reflected about building one day.
It was that sort of intellectual curiosity that was a source of attraction for Robert Howard, the Palo Alto-raised engineer she met at a party in 1995. Howard was smitten, but Ana-Maria was involved with someone else. The next time they met, though, she was again single and a romance began. “It was quite a match,” says Howard’s sister, Kim Saxe. “He hit gold with this one.” She was a true soul mate for Robert. On camping trips, the couple sometimes brought along a dictionary, looked up words, and engaged in passionate discussions about them.
Their daughter Samantha, who went by Sam, was born in 1999, followed two years later by Veronica, who everyone called Nica.
With the birth of her daughters, Ana-Maria explored new passions. She actively participated in local parenting communities, starting with her attendance at Palo Alto’s PreSchool Family beginning when Sam was a baby. She went on to be an active volunteer at El Carmelo Elementary School and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, where her girls were students. She was active in Partners in Education, which raises money to support the Palo Alto schools. Dias was particularly proud of starting an art fair at El Carmelo, where artists could share and sell their works.
Ana-Maria was also in the early stages of beginning her own business as a professional organizer, which incorporated her love for the aesthetic. Her sister-in-law, Saxe, says Ana-Maria’s own home was “phenomenal,” with a striking color scheme that included bright greens, ruby, purple and gold.
Ana-Maria is survived by her parents, Jose and Natalia Dias of Turlock; her brother John and his wife Teresa of Turlock; her sister Mary Horvitz and her husband Eric; and her sister Natalia Moore and her husband Jim. She is also survived by nieces and nephews, Carlo Dias and his girlfriend Samantha and Nicholas Dias, Carla Francisco, Andrea Francisco, and Zachary Horvitz, Lana and Leah Moore, as well as a grand-niece, Taylor Dias.