Sue went into the hospital April 19th for treatment of an obstructed bowel. However, kidney failure followed, which was initially attributed to toxic reaction to the dye used in a CAT scan. After some hesitation, Sue agreed to dialysis and to physical therapy to help her regain strength.
When Sue began getting weaker instead of stronger, further investigation detected a mass in her bowel, which, upon surgery June 19th, proved to be a large and inoperable cancerous tumor involving numerous organs. It was this that brought about her death.
Sue was a remarkable person in many ways. Although she lost the use of her legs to childhood polio, she maintained and defended her independence ferociously. She was a distinctive figure at Midwest science fiction conventions for decades, determinedly if slowly making her way around using crutches and braces, which gave her better access than a wheelchair. This changed in later years as post-polio syndrome stole further muscular strength, requiring her to rely on an electric scooter.
This, however, did not slow her down much. Since she did not drive, she navigated the Milwaukee public transit system on the scooter and went wherever she needed to go—at least in good weather. In winter, it was better if things came to her. She was pretty much fearless, doing thinks such as taking her wheelchair and going to WorldCon in Amsterdam on her own.
Her courage also allowed her to buy a home of her own. That affordable properties were in what some considered dodgy neighborhoods did not bother her. Although a lone woman on an electric scooter might be considered an easy mark, she was never robbed or molested.
Her tax preparation business worked for her. With four months of intensive labor per year, she could earn enough to live on frugally, and even to purchase her duplex. Besides income, her work was also a source of anecdotes about people and the tax system. It turns out that the person who shows up to have taxes done on April 15th with boxes full of unsorted receipts really exists-. This work allowed her to keep her own hours providing for the extra sleep she needed, and to have eight months of the year to write, go to cons, or to read.
She was a voracious reader, averaging a book a day. She had the quirk that, once she had begun a book, she would finish it at a sitting. This made thick books a challenge for her, but she always managed to stay awake through a long novel, and crash afterwards.
She had been engaged on a project to read one novel by every author in the library mystery section, starting with "Z" and working towards "A". (A determined contrarian, her SF paperbacks were also shelved with Z at the upper left, and A at the bottom right--.) Of late she had been posting capsule reviews of the works she read on her Wordpress blog.
As a writer, she attended the Clarion workshop, and had a number of short stories published, notably in the “Writers of the Future” series. Her novel, Inca, an alternative history positing the Inca Empire making a successful resistance to the Spanish, was published by Tor Books in December, 2001. The first of a trilogy, the others were not picked up for publication. (The book got essentially zero promotion from publishers, so sales were low.)
Sue was always politically active. She originally came to Milwaukee as a VISTA volunteer working with the Milwaukee Tenants' Union. She was a past member of her neighborhood council, knew her aldermen and county supervisors, and even went out to canvass for her favored candidates, on her crutches, in bitter winter weather. We joked that the pending gubernatorial recall election helped give her the will to live long enough to cast her absentee ballot.
Sue loved ideas, and loved debate. She was a frequent panelist at WisCon, other regional conventions, and WorldCons. She was named a Guest of Honor at DuckCon due to her strong skeptical rationalist principles. Georgie and I really got to know Sue when we all attended another friend's "think tank", a monthly gathering dedicated to speculative thinking. When that ended, Sue began her own "salon," which she asked us to join, and which continued until this April.
Although Sue dealt with her disabilities with dignity, it also gave a dark side to her mordant wit: with what can only be described as a "gleeful cackle" she would remind us that being "able-bodied" is a temporary condition for most of us, and she was just ahead of the curve. Sue also looked forward with grim anticipation to the Next Great Epidemic that would reduce the human population to a manageable level, if not wipe us out. HIV, SARS, and bird flu were all great disappointments to her, but she still had hopes for an Ebola outbreak.
We visited Sue on June 17th when she was still alert and able to talk, and had a good conversation about family history, including the background of her unusual middle name, Allés, which evidently came from the French "Alais" via the Channel Islands. When we saw her early in the afternoon of the 23rd, it was obvious that she was sinking rapidly. She was able to acknowledge our presence, but not speak, and she had evident difficulty breathing even with her oxygen mask. We didn't stay long, and left about 2:00 PM to take care of some of my family business. Arriving home that night, we got the messages that Sue had become unresponsive about 4:30, and passed away by 5:30.
Sue was a truly unique person. Her memory is to be treasured, we shall not see her like again.
By Sue's request, there will be no religious observance. A memorial gathering is being planned for Sunday, July 8th at her home, details to be worked out.
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