“She was a pioneer in politics and local public television. Her enduring legacy is one of strength and grit with style and grace. It was my good fortune to work with her for 10 years,” Leach added.
The first woman to be elected to statewide office as Secretary of State, Mrs. Farmer led WSBE for 17 years, from 1986 until her retirement due to illness in 2004.
Under Mrs. Farmer’s direction, the Rhode Island PBS Foundation (formerly the Channel 36 Foundation) was established to raise funds and provide support services to the station. Through her 17-year tenure, her dedication, political and social networking increased fund raising by 58% and the viewing audience skyrocketed. Mrs. Farmer also made a name for herself on the national public television stage, earning awards and recognition as a strong advocate for public media in Washington, D.C., as well as Providence.
In 1987, instructional television was established on WSBE with GED on TV, allowing high school drop outs to prepare for a high school equivalency certificate. In the same year, college telecourses began. Funded in part by a grant from the Annenburg Foundation, telecourses were televised classes offered for college credit to students enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and University of Rhode Island. At-home college schooling became very popular and at one point, Rhode Island had the highest per capita utilization in the country.
Mrs. Farmer was also instrumental in instituting the WSBE flagship political affairs program, A Lively Experiment in 1987. The fast-paced round table discussion about local politics and government features a panel of news reporters, analysts, and news makers, and airs weekly to this day.
Farmer oversaw the station’s 2003 name and identity change from its original “Channel 36” to Rhode Island PBS, complete with a new logo. At the time, Mrs. Farmer said the new co-branded name more clearly defined and identified the station, and compensated for the wide range of cable channel numbers, which made "channel 36" less meaningful.
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 Susan Farmer’s vision, leadership, innovation, and courage.
The following tribute is taken from the September 20 episode of A Lively Experiment. Moderated by Dyana Koelsch, panelists in the video are Steve Kass, Dave Layman, Maureen Moakley, and Jim Taricani.