Susan Pierce Lively proudly and skillfully served the United States as a diplomat for more than three decades, tackling a range of challenging assignments around the globe, and making enduring friendships all along the way.
She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just over a year ago, and died Oct. 23, at Goodwin House in Bailey’s Crossroads, Va. She was 67.
Her family and many friends, scattered around the U.S. and beyond, are grateful for her presence in their lives and for her public service.
Susan was born March 13, 1950, in Danville, Ky., the first child of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Pierce Lively and Amelia Lively. She attended public schools in Danville, and graduated from the Hockaday School in Dallas. She studied for two years at Eckerd College, and then earned a bachelor’s with a major in history at Centre College in 1972. Later, she would earn a master’s degree in Russian and East European studies from the University of Michigan.
Between college and graduate school she worked as a reporter at the Danville Advocate-Messenger, writing about people and events in her hometown. She also worked in the office of U.S. Representative Tim Lee Carter of Kentucky and traveled with a U.S. exhibit around the Soviet Union for several months.
In 1979, she joined the State Department, part of the first large wave of women hired as diplomats. The life suited her, given her talent for languages and love of history and travel.
Susan became a consular officer, serving first in Poland, during the Solidarity Movement and martial law. She recalled the excitement of waking one morning to tanks in the street. During that tense time, she was detained by the security forces outside the Warsaw Steel Mill while observing early demonstrations against the Communist Party crack-down.
After Poland, she was posted to the Soviet Union, China, Albania and Barbados, with stints in Washington in between. She was in Albania when the government dissolved, and was one of the Embassy staff who remained in place to evacuate U.S. citizens and other foreigners.
Susan worked full time for the State Department for 24 years, developing an expertise in visa application fraud. Her retirement, if it could be called that, included another 12 years of part-time State Department work. She took fill-in assignments around the world. She also monitored elections in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union.
“She lived life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity to see (and taste) new things,” said a longtime friend and State Department colleague.
In the Washington area, Susan volunteered as an ESL teacher, a Big Sister, an aide at a shelter for battered women, an evaluator of applicants for a foreign exchange program, and as an assistant in programs for the homeless. She served in the lay leadership of her church, Western Presbyterian in Washington.
Last October, after returning from a State Department temporary assignment in China, Susan was diagnosed with her fatal illness. She chose to live as fully as possible in the time she had. She moved to Goodwin House where she joined (yet another) book club, became a regular in the gym, wrote for the residents’ website, attended lectures and movies, and relished making new friends, some of them also retired State Department employees.
Susan’s pocket-size calendar became so full with inked-in engagements that friends said they had to book time with her well in advance. Family members knew Susan was rich in friends, from various places and periods of her life. But their number and devotion, seen especially in the last weeks, remained a revelation – and surely a reflection of Susan’s commitment to being a faithful friend.
Said another longtime friend: “Susan led a truly remarkable life up until the very end. Her spirit and outward-looking perspective were always apparent in her relationships with others, but there was also the source of that generosity in her inner strength and knowledge of herself.”
Surviving are her sister, Kit Lively (Sam Hodges); brother, Thad Lively (Elizabeth Lively); nephews, Pierce Lively and Will Lively; a namesake, Susan Stromquist; and other family and friends. Family members would like to thank especially the nursing and hospice teams of Goodwin House, as well as other Goodwin House staff, who provided such good care for her and her family.
A memorial service will be held November 18 at 10 a.m. at Western Presbyterian Church, 2401 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC. Those wishing to make a gift in Susan’s honor should please consider Centre College of Kentucky or Miriam’s Kitchen, 2401 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, D.C., 20037.