The afternoon of May 20, 2010 about 80 friends, family and faculty of the University of Oregon gathered in the Honor’s College library to celebrate the life of Susanna Blake Gabay. The library couch was a favored hangout and napping spot for the Presidential Scholar and Hood River Valley High School valedictorian. Suzi recently returned from a five-month solo pilgrimage through Mexico, a country she had come to admire “like a teenager in love” before the start of spring term. This began a period of soul searching, experimentation, and a sense of confused floundering as she sought to find meaning in her life. Abandoning medicine she had taken for clinical depression since her junior year in high school, Suzi struggled mightily with a gathering inner darkness. Tragically she ended her life on May 6, 2010.
Artistically composed photos that Suzi recorded in her travels through Central America and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest flashed on a screen as many tearfully remembered Suzi’s bubbly humor, heartwarming smile, sense of justice, wisdom and ability to forge community connections. There were repeated accounts of how Suzi’s winning manner and glowing smile transformed difficult situations into positive results. She easily made friends with strangers wherever she journeyed. Stories emerged of her commitment to building peace across divisions, and some gave testimonials to her courageous, infectious joy for living. Suzi lived up to her Quaker heritage by continuous demonstrations of her faith that there is good in all people. Her precocious wisdom manifested in an uncanny ability to firmly, yet gently reprove wayward friends.
Born March 20, 1989, Suzi was the only child of Susan and Jerry Gabay. She grew up alongside Mosier Creek in the wondrous flora and majestic beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. As early as pre-school Suzi showed amazing empathy for misfits who she befriended in such actions as playing tether ball when nobody else would or moving from near the front of a line to be with an outcast behind her. Many in the assembled crowd at Suzi’s memorial wore friendship bracelets Suzi had made them.
Suzi was an outspoken pacifist who at age 13 delivered a well-reasoned speech at a large peace festival in Hood River that linked US foreign policy with the terrorist actions that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center. She found insight into world hunger by joining in the Muslim fast of Ramadan. These and similar efforts led to her receiving an award as Youth Peace Activist of the Year in the Gorge.
Susana was a junior member of Eugene Friends Meeting, where her father has a membership in the Religious Society of Friends, but she grew up attending Mountain View Worship Group under the care of Multnomah Monthly Meeting and was known by others through her frequent attendance at the gatherings and campouts of the Junior Friends of North Pacific Yearly Meeting. While in Eugene she participated in and encouraged activities of the Young Adult Friends group as well. Her life was steeped in and reflected the Quaker values of simplicity, harmony, integrity, equality and community.
In her lighter moments, Suzi roamed the high school hallways in an M&M costume or twirled down them like a dervish; a friend also remembered a throwing contest using dissected body parts of biology lab frogs. Many shared memories of her frequent, contagious giggling sessions and lightheartedness. Kindness, sensitivity, love and intelligence hallmarked her interactions with friends, family and faculty. Some spoke lovingly of Suzi’s affection for frozen blueberries and hearty consumption of rainbow sorbet, (except for the green colored part!), and her love for all things sweet.
Susanna loved life, those in need, and nature. Once Suzi wrote, “Life is the greatest gift that has been given to us.” One friend was moved when he witnessed Suzi get off her bicycle to move a dead nutria respectfully away from traffic. Others recalled her intensely joyful examination of tiny insects or tide pools. Many noted her great affinity for animals, plants and nature. After her passing, one of the celebration organizers wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m sorry that the world couldn’t give you everything you needed.” Perhaps that was true. But, though her life was very short, Susanna clearly gave to the world something it badly needs.