The Power of ALA Connections: Remembering Susan French
On January 19, 2013, the ALA community lost former ALA President Susan French to a battle with cancer. "Susan was a tremendous leader for ALA, and her hard work and dedication moved us forward as we transitioned leadership on the heels of tough economic times," said ALA President Steve Wingert, CLM. "Her courage was an inspiration to many, and her sense of humor will always be a memory to make us smile."
And it was that kindness, courage and optimism that brought the ALA community together after Susan was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a form of leukemia, in February 2012. After months of testing and medical/family/soul consultation, Susan accepted the advice of her doctors to undergo a bone marrow transplant. After identification of the sole bone marrow donor match, Susan was admitted to Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas on September 23, 2012.
Susan has a long history of dedicated service and strong leadership in ALA that has resulted in a large network of ALA colleagues. We suspected that many, like ourselves, would want to find a meaningful way to demonstrate their support to Susan during this long and difficult process. While sitting at a café in Seattle last summer, the idea came to us to put out a call for individual squares of fabric displaying support for Susan. The result: Susan's ALA Caring Quilt.
We contacted individuals who served with Susan during her term on the Board of Directors, along with other close ALA colleagues, her local chapter affiliations (Oklahoma City and Tulsa) and her firm, Fellers Snider. The response was overwhelming and heart warming. Everyone we contacted wanted to contribute. In total, they contributed 40 squares. Master quilter Carol Anne Nitsche, CLM took the laboring oar for both design and execution. Over a fall weekend at Julie Brandsness' cabin near Leavenworth, Washington, we each hand-stitched a side of the final quilt and watched it come together.
In early November, a few days after Susan was readmitted to the hospital, the quilt was delivered. Susan expressed her profound delight and appreciation and reported "crying like a baby." As the holidays approached, Julie sent a PowerPoint commemoration of the making of the quilt to Susan and each contributor. The presentation contains a photo of each square, along with a personalized message from each contributor to Susan. Within hours, there were an amazing number of emails expressing how this project touched not only Susan, but all of us. A few sentiments expressed:
John Michalik, former ALA Executive Director: "I would suspect that all of you can remember me saying, 'This is not your ordinary association,' and that is true and remains so because of the connections between people. And this is one of the great examples of that. We've all given something meaningful and tangible to Susan — but I think the shared experience is also great … It is to me."
Mike Palmer, former ALA President: "A lot of love and caring went into all of the squares, words, the finished product and slideshow. I'm sure she'll feel it every time she pulls the quilt around her. … What a great Association!"
Bill Migneron, former ALA President and current Chair of the Foundation of ALA: "I'm reminded of that wonderful line from the last Mary Tyler Moore show when Lou told the crew, "I treasure you people." I'm sure Susan feels that way and it's safe to say we do as well. What a wonderful tribute to the true importance of ALA in all of our lives."
Marshall Fletcher, former ALA President: "This is truly amazing and a tribute to why each of us believes we receive so much more than we could ever contribute in time and talent to our 'very unique' Association."
Paul Morton, former Region 1 Director: "What is truly wonderful about this group is that we inspire each other to be better people, to reach beyond ourselves and to touch others in so many ways."
Karen Griggs, CLM, ALA Past President: "While Susan is the beneficiary of what many of you refer to as our labor of love, it is clear that all of us have been affected by Susan's journey and this extraordinary quilt. We know Susan appreciates the tangible comfort of the quilt and the care of her colleagues, but this quilt represents an intangible comfort for all of us as well."
Patti Groff, CLM, former ALA President: "This group endeavor highlights the precious gift of friendship which ALA inspires."
Wendy Rice-Isaacs, CLM, former ALA President: "What a marvelous collection of love."
Sadly, Susan's long and courageous battle to fight her illness ended on January 19, 2013. In the days prior to her death, Patti spoke to her and relayed the sentiment that would be shared in this article. Susan was deeply touched.
As Susan herself said, "We are always grateful for our Association, but in times like this, it is especially meaningful to have the support of our ALA friends." Now, in our grief, we continue to support each other and reflect on the true gift and power of our ALA connections.
Editor's note: The March 2013 issue of Legal Management magazine will include more information on Susan French. In the meantime, please visit Susan's page for more information about her activities at ALA and our online gallery of photo memories of Susan.
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