LITTLE DEER ISLE – Susanna Laure Leigh, 69, died peacefully April 21, 2013, at her home, after a long illness, as the late afternoon sun glittered on the water outside her window, a sight she always loved. She was born May 11, 1943, in Brockton, Mass., the only child of Horace and Claire Barlow, she was raised in the nearby town of Brookville, Mass.
From early childhood, Susanna loved nature and wildlife, routinely bringing home stray animals such as, dogs, cats and a variety of amphibians from the swamp behind her house, much to the dismay of her mother. Always an excellent student, Susanna received numerous art and scholastic awards, joined many committees, and was a member of National Honor Society. Winning a full tuition scholarship to Rhode Island School of Design, RISD, she graduated with a bachelor’s of fine arts in illustration, then began her illustration career at Hallmark Cards. During her RISD days Susanna could be seen striding through campus, thin as a toothpick, her mane of black wavy hair flowing behind her. Her beauty led to fashion modeling, which she used to help offset the cost of art supplies. Susanna was intelligent, outspoken on behalf of the things she believed in, deeply dedicated to her causes, generous, a fierce friend and a hard worker. She was tough with the bullies and a mush with all animals and the gentle souls of this world. Always well respected for her keen intellect and giving spirit, Susanna was a person who lived her life in decades of passionate pursuits. After expressing her artistic creativity as a designer at Hallmark and later as both a free-lance illustrator and product designer for numerous companies, she and her husband Tom, moved to the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts in the 1970s. There her focus evolved to a passion for local community support and activism and a dedication to environmental issues. Susanna became recycling coordinator for 11 western Massachusetts towns, acting as go between for the towns and the state. During that time, she fought to attain a state designation for the protection of a vast eco-system in the beautiful Berkshire river valley town of Sheffield, Mass., her adopted hometown. Susanna was in her element, time after time standing and speaking with clear facts to counter the opposition’s challenges. She was also highly instrumental in a significant and ultimately successful fight to prevent a huge demolition debris waste facility from being sited in Sheffield. At the same time, Susanna founded The Sheffield Times, a local newsletter which gained huge popular support and is still being published, 20 plus years later. After all the drama of those battles, she was ready for a gentler lifestyle and in the mid 90s she, Tom and their carload of rescued dogs and cats moved to a small island off the coast of Maine. There, in the final decades of her life, she lived her passion for nature and, most of all, for caring for thousands of deserted and homeless animals through her tireless work for ARK Animal Shelter. As coordinator and go to person for anything and everything at ARK, her work ranged from managing the large ARK database to overseeing fundraising events to the creation of wonderful artwork when needed. The yearly ARK Christmas card she created, which featured all the animals adopted at the shelter that year, always brought accolades from donors and all who saw it. Susanna knew and remembered the name of every ARK animal, where they’d come from, who adopted them and all the details about their history. This remarkable ability was used in a wide variety of ways, making her an invaluable resource to the shelter staff and often surprising adopters as she glided into conversation, asking by name how their adopted ARK pet was doing. She was also a first rate plantswoman, rolling out each plant’s Latin name and growing needs with ease, while the artist in her made quite clear which plants belonged in proximity and which did not. Her extensive vegetable, fruit and herb gardens provided great bounty for winter’s enjoyment. Susanna was widely known as an excellent and creative cook, cobbling together amazing meals from whatever presented itself at hand. She not only made a damn fine chocolate chip cookie, but also delighted her canine fans with her home-baked dog biscuits. Nothing was too much to give to the creatures she loved. She will be remembered as a person of conviction, focused passions, generosity and compassion who poured her life and soul into the causes she most cared about, and for the lifetime of good works she accomplished on behalf of others.
Susanna’s ashes have been scattered privately, as she wished. A celebration of her life will be held noon-3 p.m. on her birthday, May 11, at ARK Animal Shelter, Cherryfield. All who knew and cared about her are invited to attend. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her honor to The ARK – Susanna Leigh Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 276, Cherryfield, ME 04622.