Friday, September 27, 2013

"If You Knew Susie..." Remembering Susan L. Farmer

On Monday morning, September 16, we received word that Susan L. Farmer, former general manager and chief executive officer at WSBE for 17 years, had passed away.

In the days since her passing, there have been many wonderful things said and written about the woman who fiercely protected and shepherded this station through some dark stormy days into brighter ones. In those accolades, several words rise to the top like rich cream: trailblazer, pioneer, advocate; style, grace, humor, courage, grit, tenacity. In her politics, in her business management, and in her illness, those words describe her equally well.

Susan cared deeply about the station and she appreciated its education mission in the community. She made it her mission to spread the word locally about the treasure that is Rhode Island PBS - right in our back yard - and she took the message about the importance of public broadcasting to the national stage, too. Stories of her creative and fearless local budget battles have become legendary.

Halloween 1988
photo: Providence Journal
Susan retired from Rhode Island PBS in 2004 due to her illness. But that didn't stop her energy behind the scenes. Several of us at the station worked side by side with Susan, and we carry many memories of the day-to-day, as well as the extraordinary pledge drives and auctions. We mourn the loss of our public television champion, and send our condolences to the husband, daughters and sons in law, and beloved "grandmonkies" of this remarkable woman.

Auction 2004: Dave Richards, Susan Farmer, Heidi Farmer Piccerelli
When asked in 2005 what her greatest accomplishment was at Rhode Island PBS, Susan Farmer replied, "The station is here."

Indeed, the station is here, thanks in no small part to the vision, leadership, innovation, and courage of Susan Farmer.

There were many moving and delightful moments during the September 24 service at a brimming Grace Church in Downtown Providence, and one poem and one song are shared here.

There are several variations of this poem online, but this is the one chosen for Susan's service:
The Sailing Ship 
What is dying?
I am standing on the sea shore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength
and I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: "There! She is gone."
Gone! Where?
Gone from my sight, that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spar
as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"There! She is gone,"
there are others who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up a glad shout:
"There! She comes."

And that is dying.
                                  - Bishop Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929)

Performed at the service as an instrumental by The Original Jelly Roll Soul Band, here is the Eddie Cantor classic. Enjoy!