Jim Amidon — Susan Veatch Cantrell slipped silently away from us early Monday morning after a long and courageous fight with a variety of health problems.
That she left us silently is ironic.
Susan’s words, written and spoken, rang loudly in her lifetime. Jean Williams called her singing voice the “purest silver.” Her laugh was robust and always genuine.
She was anything but silent.
I first met her in the mid-80s when she began working in Kane House at Wabash College. I’d bump into her en route to the sports information director’s office while I was still a student. I was doing radio news and sports for WCVL; she was fresh off a broadcasting career with WCBS in New York City and WBBM in Chicago.
Oh, how she could tell stories.
She told me about the time she had a private dinner with Mario Cuomo and other New York politicians. She told me about riding in taxicabs at the same time her taped broadcast editorials were being played on WCBS, and how she loved hearing what the cabbies thought of her opinions.
She told me about her newsroom buddies and how they used to summon her by yelling loudly “VEATCH!”
When I began working at Wabash a year or two later, Susan was my colleague and became my best friend. I’d stick my head into her office to ask a question and would find myself engaged in conversations that lasted over an hour.
Susan’s gifts were many. Her ability to speak with you about something that really mattered to you — and to do so genuinely — was a rare gift.
Me? I talked with Susan about traveling to Europe; about the lasting significance of a well-planted perennial garden; about the best home-cooked meals you could make; about my family; and about my dreams.
She cared about those subjects because I cared about them. And it certainly wasn’t just me with whom she had that kind of a relationship. I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone in my life who had so many friends, who was loved by so many different kinds of people — from farmers to judges, from prominent politicians and CEOs to the woman who lived next door.
Over the course of the 20 years we worked together, Susan taught me to write. She never sat down to give me lessons, but she modeled in her own writing the advice and encouragement I sought.
Prior to knowing Susan, my writing was limited to the sportscasts and newscasts I prepared for the radio station; short, 30-second pieces that were more about facts and stats than people.
What I tried to learn from Susan was how to tell someone’s story. I’ve never known anyone better at doing just that than Susan, and I’ve known a fair number of superb writers. Susan, though, could craft language with such grace and humor that you felt like you really knew the person she was describing.
For more than two decades, Susan wrote virtually every official citation or tribute Wabash bestowed on its alumni and friends. She wrote honorary degree citations celebrating the lives of scores of distinguished citizens. She paid tribute to the College’s closest friends as they became honorary alumni. And she carefully documented the achievements of Wabash’s alumni through award of merit citations and feature articles in Wabash Magazine.
In each and every case, her subject was treated with the same care and dignity as though she was writing about a member of her own family.
That’s why so many of us felt like Susan was a part of our families or we were part of hers. She was so humane, kind, and compassionate — like a mother or sister or in my case, best friend.
I’m saddened by Susan’s passing and I miss her greatly. Mostly I’m sad that future Wabash men will never get to share in those wondrous hour-long conversations about their hopes and dreams with a woman who could inspire them to achieve their goals.
We will remember Susan Veatch Cantrell as the quintessential Wabash storyteller — the person who brought honor to Wabash men and their families through her wisdom and words.
Around here we pay tribute to high-achieving Wabash men by referring to them as “Some Little Giants,” which seems a fitting title for one of the highest achieving Wabash women.
Susan Veatch Cantrell was Some Little Giant!