Kesgrave parkrunner Susie Dyer: 'Her enthusiasm and cheery smile will be in our hearts forever'
PUBLISHED: 17:10 03 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:10 03 November 2018
Londoner Susie adored her adopted Suffolk, and Ipswich Town. During a full life she corresponded with a prisoner on Death Row, and took up parkrunning at Kesgrave at 68
If our lives are measured by the happiness we spread when we’re here and the joyful memories we leave behind, Susie Dyer’s surely goes off the scale.
Friendships forged during her first job in the 1960s proved long-lasting, and she made new friends over the past couple of years when joining Kesgrave parkrun. Not that she just turned up at the last minute, covered the 5km and disappeared.
“She was always an early bird, helping with set-up & always with a smile,” says the group. “We shall miss Susie a great deal; her enthusiasm and cheery smile will be in hearts forever.”
That zest rubbed off on others. Including son Ben, who gave the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. “My wife actually came up with the phrase in the vein of helping people ‘take something away’ – something they could ‘Susiefy their life with’.
“She had a healthy approach to doing things: being organised, being happy, and talking openly about things – and that’s stood me in good stead.”
Susan Jacomb-Hood was born on February 26, 1948, in Westbourne Park Road, London – north-west of Hyde Park. In her early years she enjoyed horse-riding and was a proficient figure-skater.
Ben thinks his mum went to secretarial college after leaving school, before joining financial public relations firm Charles Barker in the City. There, she made many lasting friendships. “It was like her ‘university’. She had this amazing self-awareness: she knew she was exceptionally good at being organised and did that well, with a fun outlook.”
Susie had a number of jobs, in the same line. “One thing she did that kind of represents her ‘style’ was always finishing her piece of work. She would observe that when five o’clock came, many other people would stand up with half a piece of paper still in their typewriter. She would make sure she finished her letter and got it to the person, even if that meant she stayed 10 minutes later.
“I think it was for her a professional vocation, even though it wasn’t necessarily a highly-valued profession. She always took great pride in her work.”
In July, 1974, she married Tony Dyer very soon after meeting him on a blind date organised through a friend with whom she went skiing. The friend’s husband was in the army, and Tony was a major in the Royal Artillery. He was 37 when they married; his bride 26.
The couple spent time in West Germany. When Tony retired from the military he got a job as a countryside officer with The Highland Council, in the very north of Scotland.
Home for most of their time north of the border was in Fortrose, six miles north-east of Inverness. Ben thinks his mother, used to the big city, adjusted well.
“Her sunny disposition made people warm to her and so she made great networks of friends wherever she worked. I think her main job – well, there were tonnes of them – was working at Fortrose Academy… which was difficult when I would arrive late and had to sign in. We lived 50m from the school!”
He was born in 1982 and says of Highland life “we just had a pretty idyllic time. Our house had a view over the Moray Firth and the dolphins”.
In 2003, after Tony retired, the couple moved to Suffolk and built a house at Hacheston, outside Wickham Market.
For Susie, there was a real sense of “coming home”. Her family had a holiday home at the “fantasy holiday village” of Thorpeness just after it was built between the wars, and her parents had gone there in their youth. “So her connections with Suffolk run quite deep.”
Susie’s mother lived in Thorpeness from the late 1960s, Ben thinks, to the early 1990s. More recently, her sister Jane has lived in Aldeburgh.
“That part of coastal Suffolk has played a part in the lives of three or four generations of that family. She felt it was her home. Through summer holidays with me and close family, her mum and dad and others, it really held halcyon memories.”
The Dyers were active with the church and village hall at Hacheston – “My father was about 70 when he moved there; he was a do-er” – and Susie kept putting her administrative skills to good use.
She worked for Suffolk Heritage Housing Association, Hopkins Homes, and with Suffolk County Council. “The job she was doing when she passed away was volunteering for the police at their headquarters (at Martlesham Heath), processing freedom of information data requests. She just loved working.
“We had a letter from the chief constable, saying she’d be sorely missed. I think she made a lot of her friendships through her work. I think one of the things that terrified her was the actual thought of retirement, so she’d kind of give up work… then go back to it.
“She was a big Ipswich Town fan, so she had to fund her season ticket somehow (in the Sir Bobby Robson Upper Stand). It was bizarre, because she told me that for 60 years she’d hated football. Then she went to a match where Ipswich Town won a game – one of their only ones! – and she was converted. Just the sense of community, I think.”
Tony died in 2012, and in late 2015/early 2016 Susie left Hacheston for the short move to Wickham Market – to the Hopkins Homes development on the southern approach to the village.
By this time she was established as a grandmother. (Ben’s daughter Grace is now five.) “My mum was obsessed with Grace. Half the photos of me that were in the house got taken down and photos of Grace popped up everywhere!”
A new band of friends
It was in 2016, at the age of 68, that Susie began parkrunning. “She wanted to find a new community to be around, and felt that parkrun was just that,” says the Kesgrave group.
Ben adds: “I think one of her friends said ‘come along’. She’d always been anti-running, but she gave this thing a shot and was so taken by the spirit of the event.”
There was one tragic side-effect to her new-found sport, though – one that can only be put down to bad timing.
“She had stomach complaints, on and off. She thought it was because she’d taken up running,” he says. “The cramps got really severe and in May it was found to be bowel cancer. They thought it had been growing for about two years. Unfortunately, the dramatic change in lifestyle and activity had masked both the symptoms and the weight loss. It was unfortunate timing to take up a new exercise regime.”
Parkruns had clearly been a hugely positive part of her life, though.
“She marshalled for something like 17 of those events, which is a really high ratio. Whenever she got into something, she did it very intensely. She completed 47 parkruns and was going for her 50th.”
In fact, that 50 should appear – thanks to a little help from a friend and her daughter-in-law.
“My wife (Becky) and my mother’s best friend and neighbour (teacher Laura Smith) are going to run number 48, 49 and 50, and get my mum to this milestone – which, if you’re a parkrunner, you get a T-shirt for.”
Becky will do the Edinburgh parkrun, wearing Susie’s wristband. She’ll then send it to Laura, who will do runs 49 and 50 at Kesgrave, near Ipswich.
Laura started a JustGiving page. It’s raised more than £1,000 for St Elizabeth Hospice, which took such good care of Susie in her final days.
Susie had an operation in early July to remove the disease. There were a couple of weeks or so without symptoms, but then she started getting a sore back. The cancer had spread.
“It was really quick. She passed away two months later. The oncologist said he hadn’t seen such a rapidly-aggressive form of cancer for a very long time,” says Ben.
Susie was admitted to the Ipswich hospice on a Friday and died on the Tuesday – September 25. Her sister, and her friend the Rev Deirdre West, were there with Ben on the Sunday for Susie’s last real moments of alertness.
“In the bad context of it, it was the best way I think it could have happened. We’d had time to chat through what she wanted. She continued her organisational streak to the point she had organised pretty much the majority of the content of her service. I had clear instructions that I had to read this poem, which I augmented with a eulogy. She’d given me a list of all her accounts; all her details.
“She’d always talked about death and dying – not every Tuesday night over dinner, but when it came up we would have a frank and honest conversation about it.
“Lots of friends found that unpalatable – ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ – but during her illness she and I could have these really open conversations: ‘If the diagnosis is two months, what do you want to do?’
“She was so into Inspector Montalbano, the (Italian) TV detective, that she went on a solo trip to Sicily after my dad died, to see all the places. ‘Do you want to go back to Sicily, or come to Edinburgh?’ (Where Ben lives.) We could have those conversations.
“What I said in my eulogy was that because she had taken care of the practicalities for us, it let us have the difficult conversations a lot more easily. There were no unanswered questions about her will, or her Royal Bank of Scotland account, or who paid the electricity bill. All that had been communicated and organised in advance. So those skills she had developed at secretarial college carried her not only through life but also the transition out of life, and helped the rest of us.”
The final days
“It’s almost like a peak of humanity – both the cancer ward in Ipswich Hospital and then the hospice,” says Ben. “Looking after people who are dying and really badly broken, they rally round in this amazing way. I’m not religious, but there were as-close-to-spiritual moments in that hospice.”
On the Sunday night Susie was essentially unconscious and he didn’t know if he should go back to Edinburgh or not, where he had commitments.
At 10pm, the ward dark, “out of nowhere this nurse appeared. We talked it all through. She said ‘I think you’ve said goodbye. You should feel free to go. A massive relief came, we had this massive hug, I cried, and then she disappeared behind this curtain. I didn’t see her again.
“I had this vision that, if this were a Hollywood film, it would turn out she’d never worked there in the first place.”
A great friend of Susie’s from Hacheston stayed with her through Monday night and into the Tuesday. “To do that when you have daughters and a business to run… She was surrounded by these amazing people to the end.”
Life and soul of the party
Ben says his mum’s passions were Suffolk, Ipswich Town (“her mood was definitely tied to whether they had a good result or not!”), parkrun and working.
He similarly loves east Suffolk. “At Thorpeness there’s something about the sand on the edge of the road as you get towards the coast. Everything in coastal Suffolk is almost dreamlike in the moment.
“All my memories of that place are 100% amazing. The beach, the smell of everything, the meare… We worked out it was just two years shy of 100 years that our families have been coming to this same stretch of coast for holidays.”
What are his main memories of his mum?
“It was the small things. She knew she liked doing secretarial work. It was ironic: her personality and her precision would make her a great leader or team manager, because she would have both sets of skills. But in her slightly un-PC way, she always wanted to be an Indian and not a chief, because she liked to be able to go home and kind of forget about it.
“She didn’t like cooking, but she loved washing up and she loved ironing, so she’d do with great gusto the things she liked doing and she’d ‘just do’ the things she didn’t like doing.
“She knew herself. She never drank alcohol. Ever. But she was the life and soul of the party.”
Another memory. “In the ’80s she was always anti-death penalty. But not just in conversations with friends. She set up a penpal relationship with an inmate on Death Row, through an organisation that facilitated it.
“Letters went back and forth for a good couple of years, and then it tailed off. We’d get these envelopes marked with all these postal stamps and ‘prison system approved’, and they’d been opened and re-sealed, every couple of months. If she believed in something, she would follow it through.
“The other nice little thing that summed up her commitment to doing what she believed in or enjoyed was she would never take any charity donations anywhere but St Elizabeth Hospice shops” – even before she had cancer and was looked after there.
“I was looking through her chequebook when I was down there last and she made numerous £50 donations over the last couple of years, just off the cuff. And that was where she ended up – in the most beautiful place I’ve seen. Those nurses were genuinely like angels.
“It just shows what you reap is what you sow. She put out really good vibes into the universe – if you want to get meta about it – and it all came back and eased her path out, after this beautiful life that had been lived.”
Sleep tight, Susie
Kesgrave parkrun’s Facebook page has carried numerous tributes. Here’s an extract from the organisation’s own posting.
“Susie began running with us on the 23rd April 2016, St George’s Day – it was the run where many of us got into the spirit of St George and ran dressed up or in red. It was Susie’s introduction to Kesgrave parkrun & she must have thought we were all completely bonkers. How right she was!
“Susie managed to knock up 47 parkruns: 39 at Kesgrave, 7 at Ipswich and 1 at Felixstowe. Susie also managed to rock up at least 17 volunteer stints in that time. I am sure that total should be higher as she was always an early bird helping with set up & always with a smile.
“Susie came to parkrun following the death of her husband. She wanted to find a new community to be around, and felt that parkrun was just that. We’ve gone through lots of photos since we heard the news; she is rarely alone & very often she is with either someone of the younger generation or those older than herself.
“She was the epitome of what parkrun is all about; building a community to look out for and care for each other, the running being secondary.
“Sleep tight Susie.”