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Susan Klaw, of Watertown, died peacefully at home at age 74 from ALS on December 23, 2023. She is survived by her husband of 50 years, Peter Del Tredici, her children Sonya and Luke, and her grandchildren Spencer, Paul, Manuelle, and Clara.
Susan Klaw was a force of nature. Throughout her life she was outspoken in voicing her ideals—and steadfast in living them. Susan was never one to sit quietly on the sidelines. She wanted to get involved. She wanted to contribute. She wanted to help. Any account of Susan’s life inevitably comes back to the same theme: she was fully engaged with the people around her.
Susan was born on May 1, 1949 to Barbara and Spencer Klaw. She and her three sisters—Joanna, Rebecca, and Margaret—grew up in Greenwich Village in New York City. Susan attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, but even after she moved to Massachusetts and raised a family of Red Sox fans, she remained unmistakably a New Yorker: bold, brash, and always on the move.
While at Radcliffe, Susan took a semester off to work for the San Francisco Chronicle and live in Berkeley, where she met her husband, Peter Del Tredici. Peter followed her back to Cambridge and they got married in 1973 and had two children, Sonya and Luke, and then four grandchildren, Spencer, Paul, Manuelle, and Clara. Family meant everything to Susan, but her friends were never far behind. She enjoyed meeting people and was exceptionally good at making new friends because she genuinely cared about them. After her ALS diagnosis, her lifetime of nurturing relationships and helping others paid dividends as she and Peter were supported by friends and family from around the globe.
Susan was defined by the communities she helped to build, in Cornwall, Connecticut, East Boston, and especially in Watertown where she had lived since 1980. In 1989, Susan became a founding member of the Watertown - El Salvador Sister City Project that provided support for the new communities that formed after the civil war ended. For over thirty years, she played a key role raising political awareness, financial support, and person-to-person connections between Watertown and the communities of El Tremedal and Nueva Esperanza. Fluent in Spanish, Susan travelled to El Salvador a dozen times, bringing clothes, school supplies and money to share with the community and returned home with suitcases full of local crafts to sell at the Tremedal Coffeehouse. Over the years, Susan played a major role in fundraising and led the organization's education focus that provided financial support for the children of Nueva Esperanza as they attended high school, college, and even graduate school.
Susan also served on the board of directors for World in Watertown, an organization dedicated to honoring the city's diversity and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all. She provided leadership for the sponsorship of a naturalization ceremony, a life-changing event for 200 immigrants from 50 different countries.
Her work history in education and advocacy was long and varied, but. the common thread was clear: identify a problem and do something about it. She started her career as a teacher and counselor at The Group School in Cambridge in 1971. Later on she did domestic violence education and outreach, was a desegregation specialist for the Massachusetts Department of Education, and worked as the Title IX coordinator for the Watertown Public Schools. As the Director and Coordinator of the SEE Program in Watertown, she helped design an alternative high school for high-risk teenagers. At Boston Excels, she developed a model for full service schools. At the Otis School in East Boston, she started the Family School where she taught ESL, implemented interactive literacy activities for families, and led parent support groups. At English for New Bostonians (ENB) she instituted a curriculum for parents and caregivers that is still being used in adult English learning programs across Massachusetts. At ENB's 20th Anniversary, Susan was presented with the "Parent Education Visionary Award."
Susan lived the last three years of her life with ALS. This brutal disease took away much of what she loved over her 74 years: her ability to walk, to swim, to play tennis, to work, and to travel. In her final months, the thing that was most important to her—communicating with loved ones—became a challenge. But even as Susan’s physical capacity waned, she refused to give in to despair. "There’s not much that’s graceful about ALS," she said. "I’ve decided that the only graceful thing in all this will be my attitude,” and so it was. Even as she was confined to a wheel chair and then a bed, she was mentally sharp and maintained her sense of humor. She continued to work and volunteer up to the very end. She attended on-line and live meetings and events, gave presents, knit baby sweaters, managed the family finances, and never failed to ask how everyone else was doing. She was, as she had always been, completely engaged.
There will be two memorial services: the first on January 13th, 2024 at 3PM at the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist (35 Church Street, Watertown, MA 02472), and the second in the spring in Cornwall, CT. In lieu of flowers, her family requests donations in her memory to Compassionate Care ALS at https://ccals.org/in_memory_of/susan-klaw/ (A link can be found below).
Compassionate Care ALS
In Memory of Susan Klaw, MA