The Right Coast

July 10, 2004
Susan Eaton
By Tom Smith

Susan Eaton was an assistant professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard and a very committed labor organizer and workers' rights advocate. I knew her when she and I were in the Telluride Association Summer Program at Cornell in 1974. In addition to being one of the smartest girls there, she was the prettiest. It saddens me that she has died at the young age of 46 from cancer.

My parents, my mother anyway, always jokes about her friends dying, how the obituaries are the first thing she reads, how she knows more people in the cemetery than anywhere else, etc. etc. Somebody young dies, and I think, you can't do that. Sometimes somebody you knew in school dies and you think, well, he is in a better place, and so are we. Other times you feel a sense of loss, even though it's someone you were unlikely to run into again. It makes you feel the ache of your mortality. I know it is "the fate man was born for," but it makes you wonder if cleaning your driveway is the best use of your time. But what else are you going to do? It needs cleaning. When a contemporary whom you admires dies, especially one who was more virtuous than you in most respects, it's an odd and unpleasant feeling. Dan Case, in my class of Rhodes Scholars and the president of investment bank Hambrecht and Quist (and brother of AOL founder Steve Case) who did many of the high profile internet IPOs of the '90's, died a year or so ago of brain cancer. He was not a friend, but a friend of friends, who was widely loved and admired. One of my best friends in England, a near-Olympian swimmer and very interesting man named Frank Allen, died within a few years of coming back to the states. Elaine Hefty, also in my class of Rhodes, went on the Johns Hopkins medical school, became a physician, wife and mother, and then was struck down. I get an uneasy feeling of, what I am doing here, when they're not? I know it doesn't work that way. Fortuna plays by her own rules.

I don't know what I can do, except remember the smartest, prettiest 16 year old girl this kid from Boise had ever seen. If God has any favorites, Susan will be one.