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lives lived

Susan Mary Woods: Radiant. Feminist. Changemaker. Open hearted. Born Jan. 31, 1941, in Toronto; died Oct. 21, 2021, in Barrie, Ont., of cardio-pulmonary disease; aged 80.

Susan Woods.Courtesy of family

If you met her, you would never forget her beautiful smile, confident grace and wicked sense of humour. Susan Woods met the world with wide-open arms and shared her love generously. She had an unerring sense of what was right and she always knew what was the most useful, fair and kind thing to do in any situation. This sense of justice combined with her limitless energy led her to create good in many community settings.

Susan grew up in Toronto and showed an early sense of adventure at about four years old by climbing the gate at her house and wandering down the street to visit neighbours. Around age 8, she decided it was important to know what a burr tasted like so she ate one! At Havergal College and Forest Hill Collegiate Susan was known primarily as the class clown. In these years, she headed up the United Nations club, dazzled many young swains and made some lifelong friendships.

In the 1980s, she lived and worked in Toronto while raising three children. She worked for the United Church and as a real estate agent, which sparked a desire to help create more affordable housing. Susan volunteered with the Fred Victor Mission, St. Christopher House, Raising the Roof and worked later with her architect husband on the creation of many non-profit housing projects, including the retirement residence O’Brien House.

Susan’s children remember her as kind, loving and generous. She took each of them on wonderful trips to New York when they reached 16, and as a single parent ensured they each had an excellent education. When her grandchildren grew to adolescence, she gave them money and challenged them to research and donate it to a non-profit organization that best represented their values and interests.

Susan married twice before she met the love of her life, Fred Beck, at Timothy Eaton Church in Toronto. They married in 1987 and would eventually move to Shanty Bay, near Barrie, Ont.

Susan’s grace emanated from her faith which transcended any dogma. She believed “when you pray, use your feet.” For many years if you wanted something done well in the village or at St. Thomas Church, you asked Susan Woods!

Susan was a news geek and read voraciously. She was engaged in current events and she was a community builder. With Fred, she published the North Simcoe Community News for eight years. Fred joked that when persuading small businesses to advertise in the paper, Susan would routinely buy at least an equivalent amount of whatever they were selling.

Susan also had an impulsive nature which was wonderful in a problem-solving context but could lead to complications. Susan rarely saw a book she wanted for herself or others that she didn’t immediately buy, and sometimes her purchases puzzled her spouse who might muse, “I didn’t know we needed another television.” But like her favourite writer, Jane Austen, she was quick to appreciate the foibles of others – and of herself – with laughter.

Susan’s passion for family took many forms. She became everyone’s favourite relative yearly when she arranged a large birthday party for all the children with outdoor movies, spectacular feasts and Supersoaker battles. A beautiful writer, Susan became the family genealogist when she tackled a big box of Woods memorabilia and wrote Grandmother’s Ivy, based on letters exchanged by her grandparents during the First World War. In her typically generous way, she published enough copies to distribute to all her relatives.

Susan helped initiate the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards and is considered a founding mother of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and became its first executive director. In recognition of her efforts, Susan received the Canada Volunteer Award, the Soroptimist International Women Helping Women Award and Havergal College’s Old Girls Award. Those accolades, while most deserved, never overshadowed her real desire to simply do good for others.

Deb Woods is Susan’s sister.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide