susansomervilleSome people sneak up on me. Susan was like that. I confess that the first time I met her, shortly after Kitty and I arrived at Stony Point Center a few years ago, I came away with a “wait and see” attitude. It wasn’t about Susan; it was about me. We inherited so many people who loved Stony Point Center, and I knew that the ones who would matter to Kitty and me in the long run were the ones who loved this sacred place not only for what it had been in the past, but for what it could be in the future. It’s ironic, and embarrassing, but true, that the people who had been most supportive historically were the ones whom I was most slow to trust.

Slowly, Susan (and so many others) won my trust, and my affection, and most recently, my admiration. Susan was the quintessential Presbyterian. She loved God, and she strived to follow Jesus, and she gave her heart and soul to the church.

Susan spent most of her career working in funds development for various institutions of the church. It was a perfect fit for her – she knew that good fundraisers are focused on building enduring friendships with those who want to make the world a better place. Susan and I became fast friends and trusted colleagues because we both understood that asking for money is actually the least important part of fundraising. Vision – and passion – and acts of kindness – and friendship that endures over time; those are the things that move people to give generously.

The turning point in our friendship actually came about because of Susan’s mother, Jeanne, who also died within the last year. It was a little conspiracy we shared; Jeanne would accompany Susan on her visits to Stony Point Center, and Susan would ask us to put her to work for a day. Usually that meant folding newsletters about peacemaking or putting stamps on appeal letters to support our multifaith community. Susan would wink at me over her mother’s head, and we would chuckle together as she watched her mother – a traditionalist who would never have gravitated toward multifaith peacework – happily become a worker bee for the cause.

Susan believed, as I do, that what matters most is to make every person we come in contact with feel important. When we listen to people’s stories, and we respect their dignity by valuing their gifts, we change their lives. Together, Susan and I did that for Jeanne, but Susan also did it for me, and I strived to do it for her.

Susan battled serious, invasive cancer for nearly two years. She never missed a monthly phone call for our Stony Point Center development committee unless she was in the hospital or receiving a chemo treatment. She refused to share very much about her daily struggles because she didn’t want to be the center of attention. She lived fully in the belief that God was in charge.

Some people sneak up on you. Susan did that to me. I am different because of all that I have learned from being her friend for the past five years. I’ve never been one to spend much time wondering about what heaven might be like, but I delight in the image of Susan and Jeanne, seated together once again, focused on the task of spreading love and caring for others, wherever they may be.

Rick Ufford-Chase
Stony Point Center, February 2014