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Saturday, November 23, 2013
Oxford Eagle

Ole Miss employee dies suddenly at mystery writers conference

By KELLY SHACKLETON
Staff Writer

Diane Coates, assistant organizer of the annual Barksdale Literature Conference mystery writers conference, died last night after collapsing during the event's opening festivities at the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center (YCCC).

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Coates, 48, had just arrived at the conference's reception shortly before 6 p.m. when she collapsed. She was transported from the YCCC by ambulance to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department sources said there was no immediate evidence of foul play. However, YCSD Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones told reporters that sheriff's investigators are looking into the incident.

Jones said an autopsy was scheduled for Saturday morning to determine the cause of death.

Witnesses said Coates appeared to be in good health generally, but mentioned having a headache at the cocktail reception preceding the banquet.

"She asked me for an aspirin, but I didn't think it meant anything. I thought it was just the stress from putting everything together," said conference organizer Sandra Moss, Coates' supervisor at the university.

Attendees reportedly witnessed Coates and Moss exchange heated words minutes before Coates collapsed to the floor. Moss said they often clashed professionally, but praised Coates for her drive and determination.

"She certainly had a lot of energy," said Moss. "She worked really hard for the university, and it will be difficult to find another like her."

Moss said Coates was responsible for contacting and scheduling presenters for the conference, as well as for arranging their travel and hotel accommodations and finding a suitable location for the event's proceedings.

Moss told reporters that the conference, now in its thirteenth year, is held under the auspices of the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, and attracts authors from across the country. The conference is proceeding as scheduled "as a tribute to all of Diane Coates' hard work in making it happen," said Moss.

Rupert Coates, Diane Coates' husband, arrived at the hospital late Friday night after being notified of the incident by members of the Sheriff's Department. He declined to speak with the press.

Coates is also survived by parents Fred and Iris Crenshaw and sister Cathy Crenshaw, all of Nashville, Tennessee.

Cathy Crenshaw said Diane and Rupert Coates moved to Oxford from Nashville in early 2006 after Mr. Coates secured a position with Dixieland Design and Construction. Crenshaw said the couple didn't have children, and Mrs. Coates led an active social life through the university.

"Her job was her life. She loved meeting people and working with and for the community," Crenshaw said.

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