Susan Leigh Shaughnessy, 1947 - 2020

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Memorial Minute for Susan Leigh Shaughnessy

Susan Leigh Shaughnessy died on September 23, 2018, but her Light remains with us.  Susan was born to Dorothy Leigh Williamson and Frederick A. Smith, on August 24, 1947, in Norfolk, VA where she was raised.  Her father was a Marine Corps veteran who served in the World War II Pacific Campaigns.  Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother remarried another veteran.  After graduating from Norfolk's Maury High School, Susan attended the University of Richmond on a partial scholarship.

While in Richmond, Susan met Charles A. (Shaun) Shaughnessy, a man immediately attracted to her lively and spirited personality.  Susan and Shaun lost touch with each other between 1967 and 1969 as Shaun fulfilled his military duties in Viet Nam.  When Shaun returned in 1969, Susan sought him out.  As Shaun describes it, Susan called him wanting a date with someone who had a flashy red car and didn’t mind her smoking.  Their relationship as a committed couple began then.  Susan transferred to and graduated from George Washington University in pursuit of education and the excitement of the big city.  Shaun followed her.  They lived in several parts of DC in the 1970s.

Susan was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist background.  Susan and Shaun were members of National Baptist Memorial Church where they were married on December 26, 1976.  Shaun and Susan stopped attending in the early 1980s as the Southern Baptist Convention moved to more conservative positions on the role of women and became more theologically dogmatic.  Nevertheless, both Susan and Shaun missed a spiritual connection.  On a whim one Sunday morning, they decided to try “the Quakers” in DC as they had some experience with Quakers while living in Richmond.

Susan’s spirit was nurtured at FMW.  She attributed her interest in Quakerism to a book The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.  As Susan described it, that book found early Christians worshipping “informally, speaking out of silence, with no distinction of rank, condition or sex, and emphasizing continuing personal revelation rather than idolatry of scripture.” Susan “found [herself] enjoying a deepening fellowship and sense of personal growth among Washington Friends.”  Two now deceased members (former FMW Clerk Myra Lank and long time member Joseph Johnson) interviewed Susan for membership on January 3, 1986, and reported “no reservation about recommending membership for Susan.”    

Susan’s interest in Quakers, in turn, led her to a close study the philosophy of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung and his followers. Susan was active in the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology.  She spent several all too brief seminars at the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. 

In the late 1980s, Susan and Shaun participated in a Couples Group formed at FMW with several other couples.  They served on Martha Solt and Dan Dozier’s Marriage Oversight Committee.  Martha will always think fondly on how Susan lent her the necklace from her own neck to offer one of the four good luck objects on her wedding day called for in“Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something Blue.

Susan and Shaun, by 1990, were ready to leave their Bloomingdale neighborhood in downtown DC.  In Accokeek, MD, they found a quiet, wooded area where Susan could continue her writing. Susan and Shaun hosted a small Quaker worship group in their Accokeek home for some time.

Susan was known for her intelligence, spirited personality, good humor, and ever-present red car.  In correspondence to the Clerk of the Friends Committee on Religion and Psychology on October 2, 1996, Susan reported that she was in the “Breakdown Lane of Life” and how she related to a notice on an old elevator, “Hang up and await instructions. Help is on the way.”  Susan suffered from depression or  “gremlins” who “chased her” “invading every area of life.”  In part due to distance and in part due to her depression, Susan stopped participating in FMW activities.  She quite incorrectly claimed to be “making a gift of [her] absence” because of her spiritual depletion and “gremlins.” FMW was a bit less vibrant without Susan’s presence those many years.    

Although she remained a prolific writer until the end, an injury in the late 2000s began a decades-long series of illnesses, restricting Susan’s mobility and contact with friends.

Susan enjoyed French culture and language and travels to France.  She pursued graduate education at American University and an internship at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  She had a successful career in freelance writing and advertising.  Susan wrote two unpublished novels and an inspirational volume of meditations for writers, Walking on Alligators, published by Harper-Collins in 1993.  Subsequent editions of the book have been printed in several African and South Asian languages, all of which she freely authorized.

The Light of Susan Shaughnessy lives on in her beloved husband Shaun Shaughnessy, in her writings, in her good service, and in our memories.