A Homily to Honor Sue Jett Crane
By the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
December 28, 2017
Sue Crane was very straightforward and very practical. She was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. Sue was unpretentious, hard-working, diligent and focused on her family. She truly loved her family, and you returned the gift beautifully.
Thirty-eight years ago, Sue and Harry married. “Dad used to wonder what she was walking into,” explained stepson Steve. “She married into our family,” noted stepdaughter Jeanne, “and she became a mother to us and eventually to 13 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.” She loved it,” said Steve, “and she did it very well, and it brought her great joy.”
While members of the Greatest Generation are dying each day, they have so much to teach us about living, about being frugal and not wasting things, about honoring our word, doing our duty, making sacrifices for others, making and keeping our commitments. They know something about the essence of life and quietly go about doing it. Their lives were shaped by war, adversity and the Depression. They are great role models. We must learn from them.
Sue’s first job was as a telephone operator for AT&T located in the Bourse Building, where she placed long distance phone calls. She didn’t see a long-term future in this, so she returned to finish her high school degree at night and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School at Broad Street and Spring Garden. She was hired by Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania and one promotion followed another. She moved from sales representative to supervising clerk to instructor to Business Office Supervisor. Her proudest accomplishment came when she received a large bowl in recognition of an Achievement of Excellence Award for developing new procedures.
Sue and Harry met at work. They started dating in May of 1972 when he asked her out for a drink on her birthday. Their dating eventually led to a wonderful marriage. Harry taught Sue how to play golf, and Sue became very involved in the Lulu Country Club, played on the golf team and took part in many activities. She had three holes in one! That’s two more than Harry. It’s not often that the pupil exceeds the master.
Sue and Harry often traveled, and they frequently played golf on their trips. The trips included visits to St. Croix, Bermuda, Aruba, Scottsdale and Rio Verde in Arizona, Naples and Amelia Island in Florida. For almost a decade they traveled to Amelia Island each February with many friends from the Lulu Country Club. As the years passed, the numbers dwindled as their friends aged and declined. Their large group was finally reduced to two couples.
Sue was frugal throughout her life, even to her final breath. “After entering hospice, all she wanted to eat was an egg salad sandwich,” recalled Jeanne, “but she only wanted half of it, but you had to pay for a whole sandwich. So, she decided not to have it.” Steve recalled years earlier while, joining Harry and Sue for some winter golf on Amelia Island in Florida, “We had to go to dinner at 4:30 p.m. because Sue had coupons that we had to use.”
I have known Sue for 23 years. Sue and Harry were always here at church, faithful in their worship and active participants in our church. I last visited Sue a week ago in Mather House at the Hill at Whitemarsh. Harry was seated beside her. That’s the way that it always was – Harry and Sue, Sue and Harry. What a wonderful team you were for 38 years.
Sue was clear and cogent. We had a wonderful conversation. It is hard to imagine that she would pass from this world in less than 48 hours. Sue had written down and shared with me a few of the things that she had done at church. For nine years, Sue served as a Stephen Minister. These are the most highly-trained lay ministers in our parish. They receive 50 hours of training in pastoral care-giving and are then matched one-on-one with someone grieving or undergoing a major life transition. The gift of a Stephen Minister is one of the most precious gifts that our church can provide someone going through a challenging time.
In addition, Sue and Harry computerized all of our cemetery records. They painstakingly entered the name of each owner of a cemetery plot in our churchyard into our computer system. Old hand-written or typed records were digitized and became an enduring gift for thousands of families with loved ones and ancestors who lie buried in our 12-acre cemetery. “We spent 3,000 hours entering the names of all the owners and plots into the computer,” Sue said. What an accomplishment and gift that will be passed down through the ages. It’s not uncommon for someone to drive down from a great distance or to come across the country to locate the grave of a loved one buried at our church. Now we can assist them much more easily. It is gifts like this and loving people like Sue and Harry that make our church such a vibrant, loving faith community.
Finally, there was their commitment to worship. This fall, we launched The Worship Challenge. We encouraged our members to take their faith more seriously and attend church every Sunday that they were in the area and able to attend, and to find another church to for worship when they were out of town. We raised the bar and encouraged everyone to walk as more faithful disciples of Christ, not attending church occasionally, but every Sunday, to let their faith shape each week of their lives. Over 80 people signed up. Sue and Harry did not at first, because this had been their practice for many years. They finally joined The Worship Challenge, but they had been living it long before we started it. Seeing them seated in the same pew in the back of the church Sunday after Sunday was as dependable as watching the sun rise each day.
During our final visit, I asked Sue some very direct questions, and she gave very straightforward answers. “What do the doctors say?” “They told me that I probably have six weeks.” “How does that make you feel?” “I’m looking forward to it. If you had what I had and have been through what I’ve been through, you’d be looking forward to it, too,” said Sue. Fighting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease had taken its toll, and now she had cancer.
“You’re not afraid?” I asked. “Not at all. I’m very at peace with it,” said Sue. “I just hope that I don’t wake up and that I go quickly.” Sue’s prayer was soon answered. She died without further suffering. An hour before she died, her son Bucky arrived from North Carolina. She squeezed his hand to let him know that she knew he was at her side. And Harry as well was beside her, just as he had been for 38 years – Harry and Sue, Sue and Harry, you made a wonderful team.
Sue was stoic and courageous. I have never seen anyone face into her own death with as much calm and aplomb, a very confident sense that all would be well. For Sue, death was just one more transition in the journey of life. Life is more than reaching 80 or 90 years old. As Christians, we view death as our journey home to God. We will spend eternity together. For those who die, life is changed, not ended. Heaven is a timeless, peaceful, joyful state of being with God and with all those whom we have loved and lost and who eagerly await each of us to cross the unknown sea to the unseen shore.
God wants to share eternity with Sue and with each of us. That’s what Christmas is all about. We were not created just to live 80 or 90 years on earth and then die. We are far more valuable than that to God. God has a long-range plan for each of us. God made Sue and each of us to live forever. One day our hearts will stop just as Sue’s heart stopped last Friday. That day was the end of her heart, but it wasn’t the end of her. Sue, like each of us who commit to following Jesus and walking in the path of love and mercy, will live for eternity. The same God who sent Jesus to Earth as a baby so that we might follow him and walk in the way of love will call us to spend eternity with him. That’s the great news of Christmas. The Bible says of Jesus, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
Please join the family if you are able, after our service concludes, at the Manufacturers’ Country Club for a lunch in honor of Sue. May Sue’s soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace. Amen.