Story By: Amanda Bridge
Video By: Miranda Quast
Susan Spooner and her closest group of girlfriends shared their lives together. They celebrated marriages and births, and supported one another during divorces, sickness and even death. Memories filled with love, laughter and even tears date back 30 years. They are engrained in the wood that makes up a bench honoring a treasured friend, wife, mother and grandmother.
Susan and “her girls” became inseparable when they started a tennis group in 1988. Every Thursday they joined together at The Country Club in Brookline. But, the playing part was not a priority for Katharine Huber, Elizabeth Perera, Cassandra Henderson, Connie Bennett, Mary Johnson or Susan herself. When asked by a coach, “What are your goals?” The girls chuckled and responded, “What goals? We just want to have fun.”
Their main concern was lunch. Before hitting the court, the women gathered at The Clubhouse. Thursday afternoon meals of laughs and storytelling were the staple of their friendship. The tradition stuck even after a divorce, a broken leg and a husband’s death ended their tennis playing days. Although they weren’t the best, the recognizable team was given the “25 Year Award.” Nobody ever played consecutively for that length of time.
Kid-free overnights during the summer at their South Dartmouth, Cape Cod, and Nantucket homes were the glue that strengthened the bond between the stay-at-home mothers. The Beacon Hill neighbors were never too far from one another.
This meant everything to Susan when she got caught in a battle with lung cancer in 2010. A former magazine model who didn’t drink, never passed up a fresh salad and exercised every morning, found herself undergoing multiple chemotherapy treatments just weeks after the diagnoses.
Susan lived a private and humble life. She never complained or sought sympathy. An avid reader of best sellers, she delved her mind into stories and crossword puzzles. She didn’t let the cancer define her way of life or the relationships she had with “her girls.”
The group still had lunch every Thursday. As Susan’s illness progressed, the women could be found at Toscano or Beacon Hill Bistro. They never made her travel far from home. When Susan couldn’t make it out, the ladies brought lunch to her. They ordered soup, and Toscano made it “on the house” in honor of Susan and her fight. These women were her primary support system outside of her family. A ride to appointments was always available when her husband couldn’t be there. And there was never a time she was alone in her hospital room, even if she was just sleeping.
“Her girls” never questioned their role in caring for Susan.
“She was the kindest, gentlest soul you’ve ever met in your life,” says Katharine, whose fondest memories of Susan are her contagious laugh and her bright smile.
Katharine Huber met Susan around 1985 when Susan moved from her hometown of Weston, Massachusetts to Chestnut Street in Beacon Hill with her husband, John, and three children, Amanda, Scott and Nicholas. The two quickly became more than across-the-street neighbors. Those who didn’t know them often assumed they were sisters.
Susan’s beauty stood out to Katharine when they first met at a party- a common trend among all those who were introduced to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman of “classic elegance.”
“A lot of men had a crush on her,” says Katharine. But, there was only one man Susan called hers.
A relationship to be admired, Susan and John were known to be “perfect for each other.” They spent summers in their South Dartmouth home golfing, and often traveled to Susan’s favorite destination, London. The pair opened their home to family and friends every Thanksgiving.
When her time was not spent raising her family, it was spent on the Executive Committee Board of the New England Aquarium where she served as a trustee, volunteer and overseer. Susan also served on the Board of the Huntington Theater, and was a member of the Beacon Hill Garden Club. Susan’s natural ability for making people feel better about themselves was appreciated wherever she went.
“It’s really hard to actually put into words somebody who was so special for just the reasons she was special,” says Elizabeth Perera.
Susan died on June 12, 2011, at the age of 66. Before her passing, she made arrangements for her funeral services. She appointed “her girls” as ushers. White roses in hand, the group greeted and led over 1,000 friends, family, acquaintances, and even those who only knew of her to their seats. A busload of friends she made during her summers in South Dartmouth made the trip to say goodbye. Two longtime friends, Jane Elfner and Kathleen Hagenbarth from Boston and Weston, joined the girls as ushers, per Susan’s request.
As hard as it is for those closest to her to put into words the person Susan was, it is even harder to describe the loss they felt. Keeping her memory alive was an important obligation felt by those she left behind.
“We wanted something personal. Something to feel Susan to us, she was such a joyous person,” explains Elizabeth.
Katharine pitched the idea of a bench memorialization, in the Boston Public Garden, to the group. All loved the idea, including Jane and Kathleen, who requested to be included.
An available bench located on the northwest side of the historic park was the perfect place. Those who sit in peace appreciate the beauty of the park, as they look on to the duck-filled pond surrounded by willow trees. The best part, Susan will never be too far from home. The same park that served as a meeting spot before lunches, and provided paths for Susan’s daily walks, became a sanctuary of memories and silent conversation with a beloved friend.
And if anyone is sitting on the bench during their weekly visits, “her girls” will ask, “Do you know who’s bench you’re sitting on? Do you know what kind of person she was?” If they don’t, they will before they leave.