Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Community has lost a feisty, devoted force of nature

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> Our friend Joan Sussman has passed.

If you lived in South Berkshire, you knew Joan. She was some piece of work. We all loved her but we knew that she had the ability to get in people's faces and she was fearless.

On the day that she died in the middle of a storm on Monument Mountain, she sent out a message, "Storm's a brewing." She knew what she was facing and still she trekked up the mountain. It really was like Joan to take on the mountain once again, sort of like "The Old Man and the Sea."

She just couldn't resist. She slipped and fell and hurt herself and even though she dialed 911 and asked for help, it took hours for the noble, selfless folks on the Fire Department Rescue Squad to find her.

By the time they located her and she was transported down the mountain, she had passed. When the news was heard around South Berkshire it was as if a pall had descended. When a force of nature like Joan disappears, there is a terrible sense of loss across the board.

If you knew her, you fully recognized her genius at so many things. She was a great mom, totally devoted to her family. She was one of the best cooks you could ever hope to meet, and you were lucky, if you got to sample the food at her table.

She was a devoted congregant at Congregation Ahavath Shalom in Great Barrington. When our grandson Noah came along, Joan showed up with all kinds of swag that she had made, along with a ton of books that her son had enjoyed as a kid. That's just the way she was. She was a giver.

On the other hand, Joan seemed to love a good fight. If she didn't like the way things were done, she'd let you know about it.

She was sort of famous for not getting along with the people in her condo association in Great Barrington. They had rules and Joan hated rules. There were times I think she went out of her way to bend or break the regulations. She'd tell me the stories of those fights with a twinkle in her eye. I have to say, I knew I should just keep my trap shut.

We first met Joan years ago in her dried flower stage. She would take flowers and make beautiful wreaths and arrangements with them. We always sought her out at various craft fairs. Her stuff was unique and incomparable. You just never saw anything like it.

And with these flowers she'd decorate straw hats and they were extraordinary. I have no idea how many people still have them but I suggest some day they are going to be prized parts of people's estates.

As with the flowers, she was always out there moving her products and as with the flowers, she had a great thing going. But Joan was a person who liked to move on and like any artist, there were other stages, among them her fruit and vegetable period.

One of the most important things Joan did was to advance the life of her son, Max. She applauded his success; from where he went to college to a party for every event from birthdays to graduation (Max is now a visual designer). Finally, Joan helped him when he bought a farm. Joan and Bill did everything in their power to make the place grow.

Joan's capacity for making lots of friends was also extraordinary. If you went to a Joan party you met all kinds of people, from the editorial page editor of the Boston Globe to some of the most creative people in the Berkshires.

In the end, she was one of a kind.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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