Even as they grieve
their loss, the people who loved Susan Eustice—who died in May after a brief illness—say memories of her lively personality rise up over the sadness, with the word "fun" coming to mind over and over.
"She was a lot of fun," said her husband, Bill Eustice. "We did a lot of laughing in life. If I have wrinkles, it’s from laughing."
"She was a fun mom," daughter Kyle Eustice said
Joanne Bemis, a colleague of many years and close friend, said Eustice "was a lot of fun, she had a great sense of humor."
"She was so fun and so positive to be around," said longtime friend Dorothy Davis Morrow.
"She definitely knew how to have fun!" said another longtime friend, Susie Buffett.
Childhood friend Marcia Angle called her "fun-loving." "She was the kind of positive person you would actually want to be stuck on an elevator with." Her mother and family friend Carol Angle, said even as a young child, "Susan was already great fun."
A career she believed in
Susan Eustice was well-known professionally as the divisional director of public and media relations for the Salvation Army’s division headquarters in Omaha. She’d held the position for more than 20 years and was instrumental in developing several annual programs including a backpack drive for schoolchildren, a scholarship program and a Christmastime radiothon. She also participated over the years in several professional organizations including Omaha Press Club, Public Relations Society of America-Nebraska, and International Association of Business Communicators.
"She played such an important role in the community and did so much to promote the good work of the Salvation Army," said Bemis, who headed up development for the local Salvation Army division before her 2015 retirement. The pair had worked together since 1991; Bemis’s professional association with Eustice actually began years earlier at the Leukemia Society (now the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society).
"Susan didn’t take on anything she didn’t believe in. She was excellent at promoting and creating public awareness," Bemis said. "She was always the person who was working with the media and she was so good at it. She was always prepared, always ready."
Eustice was also a willing mentor to interns and proud to see them start careers, Bemis added. Communications colleagues from other Salvation Army divisions would also seek her out for counsel.
"She was always open to new people and new ideas," Bemis said. "She was a very genuine person."
Son Sean Eustice described his mother as "Headstrong and compassionate, she was a natural leader; indefatigable in her work to create a more equitable and inclusive world."
He added that her impact in the community carries forward.
"She chaired several boards and began a number of community drives that will live on long into the future including the Back-To-School Backpack Drive and the Adopt-A-Family Radiothon. Untold numbers of children will continue to be given the necessary supplies each year to receive an education and go on to do extraordinary things themselves in part thanks to her. Hundreds of families each year will continue to receive gifts and food to make their holidays just a bit brighter in part thanks to her," he said. "The breadth of her charity was unbeknownst even to her family and friends because she was such a humble individual who believed she was just doing her part."
"It was sad that she passed away so close to her retirement, and that would have bothered me greatly had she not loved her job so much. She loved her career and she loved what she did," Kyle Eustice said. "I didn’t realize how many people she impacted during her career—I always knew she was incredible at what she did—but she touched a lot of people, and in the wake of her death I swear I heard from 500 people about how wonderful she was. I was blown away, and so proud of her."
When Susan Eustice was considering taking a position at the Salvation Army, it was the humanitarian mission of the organization she found was appealing, husband Bill Eustice said.
"She was very strong in her belief in the organization," he said, adding that her most unique ideas included fundraisers like a bacon festival and a slide that ended in a vat of jello. "She also kind of unstiffened the organization that was always perceived as starchy and she really brought a jubilance to it."
A great love story
In fact, "she brought an energy to everything," he said. "She was bubbly even when I didn’t want her to be bubbly: ‘Calm down, dear.’"
His amusement is borne of affection. The couple were married 43 years and met when both were still teenagers.
"It was a ‘prearranged chance meeting,’ that’s the best way to put it," he said, chuckling. "We were at a summer pool party. I don’t want to say it was a blind date because she was on a date with someone else. We met, the light went on, and that was it."
Susan—then Susan Wilson—initiated the first conversation, he recalled.
"It was 1975 and reggae really hadn’t made its way to Omaha at this point. I was the deejay at this pool party and she used that as her introductory point: ‘Is this your album?’ We were listening to Jimmy Cliff."
It’s fitting that the couple’s opening topic was music. They both loved music—the Beatles and the Beach Boys were shared favorites—and saw both Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys in concert along with a variety of acts like Elvis Costello, the Moody Blues, The Police, even Devo. "There are thousands of records in this house," Bill Eustice said. "They are everywhere."
In the 1980s, he formed a band with fellow attorneys called The Firm (not the British rock group that formed in 1984), and his wife was one of their first supporters. The band still exists today, although "I’m the last lawyer standing of the original group."
He’s aware that friends and family say he and Susan were a great love story, although "I didn’t look at it like that. It was just ‘us’."
"She and Bill were like teenagers in love throughout their long marriage," Morrow said.
"When Susan met and married Bill Eustice it was love and music that took over," Carol Angle said. "It was their first Halloween together when they stopped by the house to play French mimes that I realized what a great pair they made, the ideal dyad."
Marcia Angle agreed. "I cannot possibly do justice to my dear friend Susan and Bill’s extraordinarily loving marriage, but I do well remember in 1968, riding up the escalator at the old Brandies at Crossroads, when down the other escalator came Susan’s future husband, Bill Eustice. And Susan whispered conspiratorially to me, ‘that’s Bill Eustice, the cutest boy at Creighton Prep!’ As she was 15 at the time, Bill really was the love of her life."
"We’d have candlelight dinners most nights, but I did all the cooking. We went on picnics a lot, would watch the sunset somewhere and split a bottle of wine," Bill Eustice said. "I have all sorts of picnic baskets going unused now. I can go sit in those places but it’s not the same."
He considered his wife to be more outgoing than him, Eustice said, and in a twist to the old Will Rogers saying, explained that "she never met a person that didn’t like her."
"She just had a magnetic personality," he said. "She was my icebreaker."
He speculated that his wife would have liked knowing that she’s remembered for her love of music and sense of humor, but especially for her unconditional love for her family.
"She was a devoted mother," he said.
"As a mother, she was selfless, empowering and loving beyond belief. I don’t believe she ever stopped thinking about her children for even a second," Sean Eustice said. "Despite living thousands of miles away, I fondly remember her calling to inform me of any inclement weather headed my way, ensuring I was properly prepared. She never ceased to put her children first and was willing to sacrifice everything if need be. She believed in her children no matter what and would always go to bat for us."
"She was so sweet. One of my favorite memories was when she came to visit me when I lived in Santa Fe and I had to go to work," Kyle Eustice said. She arrived home to a spotless house and clean laundry, a traditional New Mexican ristra on the front door, and even Christmas lights strung up. "She knew how to make my environment special, really any environment—even in hotels she’d put up little Christmas lights when she got there."
Kyle Eustice, a music journalist with a niche in hip-hop—a field with few women—described her mother as "very inspiring; I just really looked up to her… She was a hard worker and showed me she could accomplish anything. I got that from her; her work ethic."
"I like to believe that she passed along to me her strength, grace and intelligence. Her love of art, food and style has influenced my life deeply as a creative professional," Sean Eustice said. "I inherited my desire to travel and constantly seek out new experiences, learning and growing from each and every one."
Kyle Eustice’s husband Paul Lukes said his mother-in-law was welcoming and encouraging.
"Having lost my mother at a young age, Susan took it upon herself to take on the mom role with me and be a nurturing and caring figure in my life. If I hurt myself, she was always the first one there with a bandage ready to help. She had a huge heart and welcomed me into her family with open arms. I truly feel like her fourth child," he said. "Not only did she care for me like her own child, but she also pushed me and encouraged me to be the absolute best version of myself possible. She believed in me when I didn’t fully believe in myself.
"Where I am in my career today is 100 percent because of things she did to help me and nudge me in the right direction. Her family was the most important thing to her and it’s obvious that lesson has been handed down to each of her children. She lived life with a regality and class that was second to none. I feel unusually lucky because I get to spend the rest of my life with her firstborn, in whom she was able to instill all of these amazing qualities."
Ellen Eustice, who’s been told her whole life how she resembles Susan ("I’m like her as in everyone calls me ‘Mini Mom’) said her mother is "insanely missed" every day.
"She was my favorite woman and my go-to confidant," she said. "She was always there for me at the drop of a dime. (When) I had massive surgery, she flew out for and she spent every day in the hospital with me the week I was there. It was only natural for me to fly home and spend every day with her for the 44 days she was in the hospital."
When a nurse asked if Ellen was her favorite child, Susan was able to muster up a laugh, ill as she was.
"She said plainly, ‘I love all my children. Ellen is my rock.’ She would go into crisis 48 hours later and that was part of the last time I really talked to her," she recalled.
"Susan passionately loved her children," Bemis said. "She was always so proud of their accomplishments."
Childhood friends said Eustice had a fun-loving nature even as a youngster.
"When Susan and Marcia played with their Barbie dolls, it wasn’t a question of who had the grandest outfit; it was which Barbie had the most fun," Carol Angle said. "Even on Barbie-the-Doctor Day, no matter how many patients they saved along the way, or how professional they looked, it was who had the best time."
"Susan and I met when we were five years old. We went to Dundee Church Sunday school together. She was fun from day one—including sneaking up to Baum’s Drug Store with me once in a while when we were supposed to be at church," Buffett said. "We didn’t go to the same schools but remained friends, both of us working at the Cricket Shop at 76th and Pacific during our high school years. When we were bored working at night, we would stand in the window and pretend to be mannequins."
"I am quite sure only Susan could have persuaded my mother to allow me to have the neighborhood’s half-a-dozen cats—in high chairs, each with their attendant girl, eating cat delicacies around to our formal dining room table—for a cat birthday party," Marcia Angle said. "That never would have happened had it not been for Susan’s charm and fondness for events."
"We spent our freshman year at UNL in Smith Hall. I was on the seventh floor and she was on the ninth. We had plenty of adventures there, including driving to Denver in the middle of the night one night to visit her boyfriend," Buffett said. "It’s rare to know someone for 61 years and I feel so fortunate that we had that long friendship. I could honestly write pages of funny stories about things that happened in our lives."
Even as a mother and busy professional, Eustice stayed connected to her pals, Bemis said. "She was a wonderful and devoted friend."
"She somehow figured out a way to balance everything and I think all of us who knew her would say that we always felt that she had time for us," Buffett said.
Morrow, who met Eustice in adulthood when they worked together at Opera Omaha, agreed.
"Her first day there, she hung up a huge framed poster in her office which featured Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio. I loved the Beatles, and inquired about her musical tastes, hoping I’d met another Beatles fan, and of course it turns out she loved them, too! Then we discovered we’d gone to the same high school, just a few years apart, and so we had much in common. We were instant buddies."
Eustice was also a good matchmaker.
"I’d moved back to Omaha after being gone almost 20 years, and didn’t know many people at the time. I was single, and looking not to be, but not meeting anyone, and Susan was doing her best to help me out. One night I went to a party with Susan and her husband Bill, and after a bit I had identified two single men who they both knew. I asked Susan which one I should put my sights on and she said, ‘That one!’ and pointed at my future husband, Jim, who was in a popular local band called the Firm, along with Susan’s Bill. It was pretty much love at first sight!" Morrow said. "So, in addition to working with Susan, I also had the pleasure of being a fellow band wife with her, which was a ton of fun."
"She’s also the reason that I met John, my husband," Buffett said. "I honestly have her to thank for that."
Lovely memories, little signs
Susan’s mother’s family had longstanding connections to
"She loved going to Lake Okoboji where she’d been going since she was a child. She’d invite girlfriends for occasional Okoboji weekend getaways and we’d have such fun—she had a trove of knowledge about the community and loved showing off the town," Morrow said.
"I have 180,000 miles on my car and it’s from going back and forth to there," Bill Eustice said.
"I think her favorite place in the world was Okoboji," Buffett said. "I bought a house there about four years ago so we ended up seeing a lot of each other up there over the past few years. I’m especially grateful for that now that she’s gone. We lost her way too soon. I still expect her to walk in the house in Okoboji with a bottle of wine and some chocolate."
There are little reminders for everyone, like a group of five owls that showed up at Kyle Eustice’s Colorado home on her mother’s birthday (July 9) and stuck around at unusually close range.
"I felt like it was a gift from my mom saying "I’m watching over you and everything’s going to be okay," she said. Another time, she was walking her dogs, "feeling sad, missing her and thinking of her. I look down and in my path, perfectly placed, was a wooden cross with a heart on it. What a cool little sign!"
When Bill Eustice was in England in October, "Ironically, there was a bereavement ceremony at the Ripon Cathedral for people who had lost loved ones in the last year." The awe-inspiring historical setting, the choir and pipe-organ music were beautiful, he said. "You write the name of your loved one on a piece of paper and you put it in a little basket and they give you a candle to put on the altar…It was very moving."
"People say, ‘It wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t love them so much.’ This is obviously the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced but it’s also a testament to just how much I loved her," Kyle Eustice said. "I think she accomplished exactly what she wanted. She wanted to leave a legacy behind where she helped other people and people knew she cared about them. She left behind a husband and three children who adored her. She had it all, in a way.
"She was able to tackle basically anything; she’d go through hardship but she’d do it with grace. She always taught me to ‘put on my brave face.’ During her memorial service I incorporated that into my speech because I really had to put on my brave face just to get through that day."
"I miss her like crazy," said Morrow, who also remembered her friend’s expression of "putting on a brave face" in difficult times. "I’m doing that a lot while adjusting to life without her."
"She was genuine, honest and passionate about life," Bemis said. "I could never forget her."
"I’m utterly heartbroken she is not here physically anymore. But her immense impact, both personal and professional, is permanent and will continue to inspire me and many others in years to come," Lukes said. "I’m grateful for the years I did have with her."
"Losing my mother has undoubtedly been the most difficult experience in my three decades on this earth and yet somehow I feel closer to her than ever. Sharing in stories with her family and friends has helped paint a far more complex picture of my mother than I was ever able to see before and I love her even more deeply as a result," Sean Eustice said. "She was such a bright light in this world and she will be sorely missed, but the love she gave will undoubtedly live on."
~ Marcia Angle, friend