I was eleven years old when I met Suzanne. She was my sixth grade teacher, and I'm ashamed to say that my class was the reason she refused to ever teach sixth grade again.
We gave her so much grief, and she took it with the grace beyond the realm of mere mortals. No matter how bad things got, how bad her life went, she faced it with a relentless optimism she wore like a suit of armor – ready to wield a joke and flash that beautiful smile.
I never would have guessed then that that rocky start would be the start of a friendship that has lasted 15 years.
Suzanne taught me so much, which is fitting all things considered.
She taught me that musical theater was more than just Cats. And that Steven Sondheim is by far superior to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
She taught me that to cut in line at Disneyland all you needed was a wheelchair and a friend willing to push you around – I'll give you three guesses on who was pushing whom.
She introduced me to the wonders of Ray Bradbury, and for the next three years took me to the LA County Book Fair to meet him – where I lugged three hundred pounds of books on her behalf.
She taught me the value of a good book isn't in how how much it entertains you, but by how much it changes your world.
She found it impossible to walk by a bookstore. They pulled her in like a giant lodestone – and she was the magnet. And once there, I don't think I ever saw her buy anything for herself. It was always “here, you'll love this” or “I should get these for my students”.
Her generosity was limitless.
Suzanne introduced me to Auntie Mame, and I cannot count the number of times she turned to me and say in her most dramatic interpretation “Dahling! Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
Suzanne never starved.
She lived life in a way that made every moment seem precious. A Thursday wasn't two days before the weekend, it was a chance to see a 1950s movie at an LA cinema or go to the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
She was a role-model in the best sense of the word.
She taught me that love was finding that one person who loves you for everything that you are. Who isn't blind to your faults, and loves you not in spite of them, but because of them. I can say, without any equivocation, that one of the proudest things in my life is that I helped Suzanne reunite with Tom.
She did so much for me, I will take credit for what little I could do for her.
Suzanne also taught me how to stand up for myself, and that being a woman means finding the strength and confidence from within yourself to go on when life was hard.
And her life was hard. She was dealt more blows than any person should ever have had to deal with – but she faced them with that spirit and cheerfulness and an unwillingness to accept things just because someone told her to. Some people might call that stubbornness, I call it willpower . She fought for every inch and earned everything she had.
But Suzanne's real gift was that she really and truly believed that you could do anything, and more so than that, she would talk to you, listen to you - and in the end, you believed it to.
Her ability to inspire and motivate was astounding and unwavering – she would believe in you long after you had given up on yourself. She was always available for that three AM phone call because you felt your life was falling down around your ears.
And she could pick you up and put the pieces back together without ever breaking stride.
Suzanne gave every person she met their own set of wings, stamped with her bright smile as the seal of approval, and she never asked for anything in return, she'd just stand back and let you fly...
I just wish we didn't have to do it without her.