In 1981, Sue left her job at Hughes Aircraft to volunteer full-time at Physicians for Social Responsibility. And for the next nineteen years Sue essentially worked in our offices. “I was so concerned about Reagan and the nuclear build-up I had to do something,” she told me. Yet Sue was no ideologue and would speak fondly of her friends at Hughes Aircraft. Still, she maintained, “leaving Hughes was my way of converting them military industry.”
Sue faithfully maintained the PSR-LA database, answered correspondence, and performed the sundry unglamourous but necessary tasks that helped PSR-LA thrive.
When I arrived in 1994, Sue maintained membership information on both on a rudimentary computer program as well as a complex colored card system. What did this entail? Once a donation arrived, Sue would type the donation and address change on an IBM Selectric typewriter, then she would move over to the computer keyboard, re-type the information into the database, then she open the word processing program and typeout an acknowledgment letter, then go back to the typewriter and hand-type the donor’s address on a stationary envelope. Sue would faithfully repeat this process thousands upon thousands of times.
I wish I’d recorded the amazing conversation that’d take place during PSRLA newsletter mailings. Sue was the lead organizer of these half-work half-party events. Joining her might be Pauline Saxon, Orpha Goldberg, Lillian Laskin, Mary Breiderbach, Elaine Budin, Doris Bolten and Bea Sperling. The conversation was rich – sometimes bawdy – but always insightful. Sue’s lovable loud New York accent would rise and fall with the conversation. I think the world’s problems were solved around that table.
Sue grew-up in the Depression and at a young age went to work to support her family. Perhaps this experience made Sue a leading exponent of civic participation. For Sue also volunteered at a well-baby clinic, at after-school tutoring programs, and at the Lowman School – a special education center where her daughter, Helen Harter, served as principal.
Sue believed in the political side of civic life as well. She believed that you join a group and use that collective force to make changes in society. Sue not only practiced these political virtues at PSRLA but also when she retired at the Agoura Hills Senior Retreat. Just last year, when the Iraq War was about to start, Sue made signs and organized her compatriots to vigil against the war. The local Conejo Valley newspaper, the Acorn, prominently featured Sue’s protest.
Despite a hard childhood and early widowhood, Sue Blumenthal created a magnificent life and beautiful legacy. Her generation is passing. Through their sacrifice, groups like Physicians for Social Responsibility were created. And I fear that my generation and the ones that follow may be all too self-concerned and scared, and lack the commitment and desprit d’corps to continue the work. Sue Blumenthal’s life is a wonderful encouragement to keep on carrying on.