Thursday, March 22, 2007

Susie Stephens

Yesterday was the anniversary of Susie Stephen’s passing. She was a good friend and fellow bicycling advocate. Susie was the Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (formerly NowBike). I meet Susie back in 1993 I believe. I was working at the Seattle School District and was the young bike commuter of the building, riding my bike 17 miles one way to work and school. The Recycling Coordinator tipped me off to this great organization that championed for safe cycling in the state of Washington. I called them up and started volunteering. Susie was only a few years older than me at the time, I was 21 and she was about 26 maybe? Not sure. Susie was a vibrant personality and could whip up a room with her addictive enthusiasm. I really enjoyed volunteering for the organization. It felt good to give back to something I believed in and preached every day, safe cycling.

One day in 1995 Susie and I were sitting together at a public hearing that was asking for public comment about extending the Burke Gilman trail ( through Ballard in Seattle. We were quite pleased with ourselves, because a meeting hall that held about 100 was backed with over 200 bicycling advocates and the message to the City Council was very clear, we wanted the trail completed. As we were sitting there, just after I had testified that I supported the trail, Susie asked me if I would consider joining the Board of Directors.

Now this caught me off guard. I mean I’m pretty self-confident, but who was I in the state of Washington to be invited to such a group? I was just a young kid, just out of college. The Board had well established members of the cycling community, an exec (and soon to be CEO) of REI, Bike Shop owners, Founding Board Members, Bank Execs, Former City Officials. I was just mystified why she’d ask. Susie explained to me that the I would bring a very important set of skills to the board, an eye for technology, a younger perspective, advocating for Mountain Bikers (as I was big into that), and she said my passion for what we do was like hers and she wanted that kid of individual on the Board. Plus, she just knew I could contribute a lot.

Those words were all I needed. In 1996 I joined the Board of Directors. Susie was right, from 1998-2001 I chaired the Auction for the Bike Alliance, Chaired their Technology Committee and in 2002 I joined the Executive Committee and was Chair of the Board from 2004-2006. Susie’s belief in me came at a time when a young adult was not getting the respect he felt he deserved at work. She pushed me to not accept that and continue to do better for myself and those around me.

Susie left the Bicycle Alliance sometime around 1999 I believe. She continued her role as an advocate with the Thunderhead Alliance and as a Pedestrian & Cycling Consultant.

On March 21, 2002 she was in St. Louis in a consulting role to the National Center for Bicycling & Walking (NCBW), helping manage a two-day training conference on innovative approaches to transportation, sponsored by the USDA Forest Service and the US Department of Transportation. While crossing a street in a marked crosswalk she was struck and killed by a moving vehicle. I still remember the call that day from Barb Culp the Executive Director of the Bike Alliance that took over the role from Susie. Every year this is a sad day for me as I remember some one who meant a lot to me and all cyclist every where.

Information on Susie’s Accident

From every tragedy I like to learn something and take a positive away. It’s my way of dealing with the negativity that comes from loss. Susie will continue to be a role model to me on so many levels. First, to always believe in and encourage others to contribute and reach their potential, just like she did for me in 1995. Second, to always look around you and ask “how can I make the world a better place for others and myself.” I’ll continue to be an advocate in life, whether that is for cycling, customers, family or friends.

Finallly as Susie would always say; “If you don’t like where you are in life, pedal.” Best advice I've ever heard and used.

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