Kathryn E. Diggs, 76, a scrappy, fiercely conservative lawyer who sparked a land-use firestorm when she served as president of the Montgomery County Council in the 1960s, died July 6 of congestive heart failure at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla. A former Rockville resident, she moved to Boynton Beach in 1990.
On the evening of Nov. 10, 1966, Miss Diggs led six lame-duck council members through four hours of relentless rezoning actions. Overruling master plans and disregarding planners' recommendations, she and her colleagues single-mindedly sought to transform more than 2,000 acres of the county's rural and low-density residential real estate into housing subdivisions, townhouse complexes, high-rise apartment buildings, shopping centers and light industry.
At 11:57 p.m., Miss Diggs adjourned the council, and after midnight she started what technically was a new session, which meant council members received another $30 for their service. The council stayed in session for an additional hour.
The rezoning marathon was the final flap of a lame-duck council that already held records for the most high-density apartment, commercial and industrial rezonings granted contrary to master plans. With the departure of Miss Diggs and her cohorts shortly afterward, most of the rezonings were overturned by the new council or the courts or were withdrawn by the applicants. On the day she left office, Miss Diggs, still as fiery as her flaming red hair, predicted that history would vindicate her council. She vowed to return, The Washington Post noted, "like Scarlett O'Hara right before the intermission in 'Gone With the Wind.' "
Two years later, she ran an unsuccessful race as the Republican nominee for the Maryland Senate seat from Montgomery-Howard County District 3-C. She ran against her cousin, Andrew L. Sonner, for state's attorney in 1978 but lost that race as well.
Kathryn E. Diggs -- "Kitt" to closest friends and family -- was born in Alexandria and graduated from Coolidge High School in 1948. She received a bachelor's degree from American University in 1951, a master's degree in business administration from Simmons College in Boston in 1952 and a law degree from American University's Washington College of Law in 1961.
She was a champion golfer at AU and boasted the second-lowest handicap (four) in the Washington area at the time; her sister held the lowest (three). Both women played on the amateur golf circuit during summer and often competed against each other. "This isn't sisterly love; it's real competition," she told The Post in 1959.
She taught at Upper Marlboro High School from 1953 to 1955 and at Wheaton High School from 1955 to 1958 before enrolling in law school, where she was the top student in her class.
"If I can't be the best, I don't want to be second or in the middle," she told The Post. "Instead, I'll channel my energies to where I can be the best."
She was a law clerk and then bailiff in the court of Judge Kathryn J. DuFour from 1960 to 1962, when she was elected to the council. She was a trial lawyer in Wheaton from 1962 to 1990, specializing in family law and medical malpractice defense. After moving to Florida, she worked as a special master in West Palm Beach.
Survivors include her husband of 34 years, Francis A. Williams of Boynton Beach, and a sister, Barbara Hughes of Richmond.
Miss Diggs's husband said that in recent years she had taken up bridge with the same fierce determination that characterized her other endeavors. Her philosophy -- toward bridge and toward life -- was simple, he said: "She was seldom in error and never in doubt."