Wife, feminist, editor, songwriter, wit. Born April 28, 1946, in Toronto, died March 25, 2013, in Toronto of cancer, aged 66.
Piano lessons were the best investment Susan’s parents ever made. Music was a joy and sustenance to Susan her entire life – she played for us up until the last two weeks of her life, and her memorial service was full of stories and singing that lasted into the night.
Susan was a founding member of Toronto’s Friday Night Song Circle, held in members’ homes. Over a period of more than 30 years, Susan hosted many of these evenings, welcoming musicians into her colourful Annex apartment, filled with an eclectic mix of family antiques, folk art, paintings and crafts made by friends.
Her life was full of many other loves: interesting books, Canadian history, good food, home decorating and the Lawrence family cottage on the Severn River. And, of course, Steve Schonwald – whom she wed at age 60, her only marriage.
Susan and Steve met at a song circle. It was an unconventional marriage, a tale of two cities and two mature, established adults: Steve was from Philadelphia and Susan a happy resident of her beloved Toronto. So suddenly at 60, she had a second, American home. When Steve asked her to marry him, the subject of name change came up. When he suggested she change her name to “Susan Schonwald,” she said no – she wanted him to become “Steve Lawrence.”
Her independence was legendary, and in this regard she often acknowledged her Aunt Zaida, a career teacher and traveller, as her role model.
Susan reached out immediately to Steve’s family in her gracious manner, taking an active interest in their well-being and an initiator of celebrations. In her Philadelphia home, Susan learned and enhanced their practice of Jewish traditional holidays and broadened the circle of celebrants. Their Jan. 1 open house singalong was a welcome annual event.
With her gift for intimacy, Susan made and maintained a large network of friends who in turn became each others’ friends and helpmates. She offered a quality of intense listening and forthright responses.
When she was about to utter a frank opinion, she would make a characteristic gesture – holding up her arm, palm flat, which signalled “wait.” We were instantly alert to what was coming. It might be a note of caution, if she thought we might be harbouring a blind spot, or a non-negotiable point she needed to make based on her unsentimental intellectual assessment.
From the beginning of her illness, Susan took care to keep us informed by starting, with the help of her friend Karen, a newsletter, “Keeping Abreast,” sent out regularly to all her relatives, friends and acquaintances.
Her response to bad health news was to fulfill her dreams. She retired from her job as children’s book editor at Quill and Quire, bought a baby grand piano, and recorded and launched a CD, Welcome to Lawrenceville. In her last three to six months, she experienced a burst of creativity, writing and recording a second CD, The Last Songs.
Near the end of her life, when the progress of her illness was unsure, she asked a nurse: “Am I going to die? I need to know because my computer needs fixing and I wonder if I should bother.”
She let us know that she was not afraid, so why should we be? It was her last and very great gift to us.
Joyce Hall was Susan’s friend.