In Memory

Susan Johnson

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10/29/14 11:07 AM #1    

Jeff Robinson

From Toni Minor, a friend for 53 years
Susan Johnson died peacefully in Santa Rosa on October 22, 2014, probably of metastasized esophageal cancer. She was lovingly cared for by friends the last short week of her life. Susan had a rare gift for friendship — she made deep friendships and she kept them, in my case for 53 years. We were, in some ways opposites. I was the "Polly the Planner" type, Susan the meandering, go-with-the-flow type. Mid-summer after our graduation from high school, I was getting ready to go to Davis (having applied whenever you could first apply) and Susan was still wondering where she might go to college, so I said, "Come to Davis." She applied so late that she was put in a sort of wooden barracks, temporary dorm site, three buildings named Ash, Birch, and Cedar. Choosing a major was even slower than choosing a college. Susan took classes she was interested in, not ones that necessarily fit any coherent plan. She did graduate in four years and as an English major but she took so long to formulate that plan that her mother, needing to have something to tell her own friends, declared Susan a French major. After our junior year, we spent a summer in Europe. I could find my way around any city that was laid out logically but I was completely baffled by Florence. None of the streets appeared to be parallel. Susan, on the other hand, always seemed to know where we were and how to get back but it was totally intuitive. She could never explain it to me. Our senior year we shared an apartment right next to the railroad tracks at the point where the trains blew their whistle as they entered Davis. It felt like the trains were going right through our apartment. The next year we had an apartment at Arch and Virginia in Berkeley. I was going to grad school and Susan, as was her wont, was just being. To her mother's everlasting consternation, Susan wasn't ambitious in any worldly sense. I think maybe in her next life she'll be a Buddhist nun; she'd make a wonderful contemplative. Living in Berkeley, we both eventually got jobs in retail (that's what happens to English majors who don't teach). She was in an executive trainee program at Capwell's (she called it "Crapwell's") and I was in the same at Macy's. I was spectacularly unsuited to retail life. Susan, I think, lasted a little longer than I did. We both went on to be technically "underemployed" the rest of our working lives and we kept in touch. Her parents offered me the Russian River cabin for my honeymoon, where the river flooded all around us. When my son was two months old, the first overnight we had was with Susan at the River. So it went, over the years. Just a month ago she spent five days at our house visiting with our great mutual friend Jim Killian who was here from Connecticut. Susan clearly did not feel well and we were concerned about her but she was so glad to be there. One evening she sat us all around the dining room table and had us read aloud, in turn, from a memoir she had found written by a cousin of her grandmother's. It described the town where they lived, the people, the way of life at the turn of the century in a little California mining town. Susan loved the past, memorabilia, stories, crocheted tablecloths, you name it. She was quite worried about having to sort through all her stuff and get moved into senior housing in Sebastopol. She wanted to be moved before December so she wouldn't have to pay property taxes again. She moved in time, just farther away than she imagined. At the time she died, about 4 a.m., I woke up with a start. The feeling in my whole body was a kind of clackety-clack and I felt like something big, like a rocket, was breaking out of the earth's atmosphere and going into outer space. It was a big feeling and I felt like it had something to do with Susan. I loved her. We all did. And especially her laugh. She had the best, most contagious laugh of anyone I know. I will miss that more than anything, I think.

10/30/14 09:33 AM #2    

Thomas Peters

Thanks for your post, Toni. I didn't know Susan over the last 50 years but I can see she had the most precious thing a person can find; a caring and loving friend. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts with us.

Tom Peters

10/30/14 09:57 AM #3    

Vicki Basil (Menzies)

Toni - What a wonderful tribute you wrote for Susan.  I did not know her well, but do wish I'd known you two were at Davis at the same time I was.  I was actually in Birch Hall for a year, so your post brought back many memories.  Vicki Basil Menzies


10/30/14 11:07 AM #4    

Kelley Felts (Ballinger)

Toni...What a wonderful tribute to Susan...I think it's so important to keep all our lost classmates in our hearts..and I am glad we have this site to keep us upddated, and able to express our thoughts and prayers....RIP Susan <3


10/30/14 02:59 PM #5    

Michele Thring

Susan Johnson and I were friends in High School and we had a lot of fun together. We were members of the "Jet's" our high school basketball team.  In fact I just found our banners the other day in my attic.  How strange that is.....I visisted with her at this year's High School reunion and it was good to see her after all of the years had gone by.  She was a very sweet caring person and I am glad that I was her friend at Piedmont High.  It really was a shock to read about her passing, because I had just seen her a short time ago.  Sweet dreams, Susan, it was wonderful to have been a part of your life so many years ago....

Michele Bold

11/08/14 07:27 AM #6    

Catherine Gonick

A memorial service for Susan will be held on Sunday, December 7th at 2pm at the 
Community Church of Sebastopol
Fellowship Hall
1000 Gravenstein Hwy N.
Sebastopol, CA  95472
An ice cream sundae bar and social will follow.  Susan's best friend, Nancy Mathews, will be officiating, we will include Buddhist traditions, music and a time of sharing.  All are welcome, please spread the word to Susan's many circles.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Ceres Community Project, 7351 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, CA  95472, which provides healthy meals to people and families facing serious medical crises, and also mentors teens to work in their community garden and kitchen.  Or to St. Joseph Memorial Hospice, 439 College Ave., Santa Rosa CA  95401.

11/08/14 07:46 AM #7    

Catherine Gonick

Re the memorial, I plan to attend and would like to say, and show, if possible, something about Johnson's Jets, of which Susan was team captain.

Michele, please don't throw out those banners! I will be in touch.

For awhile in high school, Sue, whom we called Winnie, and I were the kind of best girlfriends who are joined at the hip and the psyche.  I have no idea what we talked about but remember that we were commenting constantly on all aspects of life and laughing our butts off about it. And also sharing weird dreams and intuitions about the less obviously hilarious aspects of life. The same was true when the PHS reunion brought us back together last year--even under her dire circumstances. She was definitely still captain of herself-- forthright, perceptive, brave, and sensitively tuned in to this world and whatever others there might be--right up to the end. What a pleasure to spend time with her, more than 50 years ago, and now.

Through meeting her many friends from later years, I learned that she was somewhat of a leader to them as well. One of her friends shared a story that grew out of a mythic dream she had, writing about it:

This is the story that Susan dreamed while all the Bay Area Earthstewards were camped around her house making plans to host the 1988 Earthstewards gathering. She awoke that morning with it, and she began our planning circle that morning telling it. And so it became the story that we acted out in the four days of our summer gathering, with the entire crowd self selecting into the four separate tribes and at the closing circle coming together to bring it home. She was an amazing presence to me and to the whole group, later being one of the honchos for the Sonoma County PeaceTrees project, I believe in 1993 or 1994.

11/09/14 12:18 PM #8    

Ann Watters

Sue Johnson...On her Journey toward freedom from this mortal coil.. She will return again to finish her work of Self Realization and God Realization.

Susan was on a journey her entire life.  We discussed this last year as I reconnected with her after so long being away from physical and vocal contact.  We had a wonderful honest conversation about life and death and her battle with Cancer and how it was teaching her about the bigger truths of life.

We laughed about our youthful attempt at friendship which was repulsive for both of us. I tyhought she was mean and I was not much better in those days.Not mean but very confused.  We both realized that pain makes us grow and had made us grow into spiritually seeking individuals. We spoke 3x last summer and in that time we became united in the endeavor to live life as it is presented.  

I wish her peace and much love and Joy on her next journey. She will be back and in what form that is in God's hands or the Great Spirit's hands, Allah's hands, Christ's hands or in this case Buddha's hands.  The hands are loving ones and I wish her love.  

Farewell brave traveler..Farewell!

A sister on the path towards freedom from Life and death as we know it here in Pinda. Farewell!



11/10/14 01:37 PM #9    

Beverly Gist (Swift)

Thanks to all of you for your tributes to Susan.  How wonderful and life-affirming to be able to share your memories!  I look forward to seeing some or all of you at her memorial.

11/10/14 04:07 PM #10    

Catherine Gonick

Reading these comments makes me think that, as the saying goes, our friend was "many things to many people".  Knowing myself and some of the commenters, I find that what we write says as much about ourselves as about Sue/Susan/Susie/Winnie. I think it took a large-souled person to share realities with so many others. It's nice to realize what good advantage she took of the opportunity friendship offers us all: to live many worthwhile lives (as many, different people, with many, different people) within one life. Like sharing various rafts on tributaries of the same river.

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