About five years ago, a doctor solemnly gave Suzanne Roane some bad news. He said she had six months to live. In 2014, he was finally right; on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 this teacher of many and mother of two finally gave up the fight. She was 79 years old — in and of itself a remarkable achievement.
There are many people to thank for her longevity. In particular her doctors at MD Anderson, who pulled out all the stops and battled every front that presented itself. Her children, Misty and Kit, also played a role, as did her sister, Linda Grinstead. But the majority of the fight in this endeavor came from the indomitable Mrs. Roane.
If she were alive, she might say the end was neither as swift as she wanted, nor as long as she feared, but that the life she had lived up until then was worth the price of admission, even given her regrets. That's the kind of straight-talker she was: a woman unafraid to make her views known.
Not everyone appreciated her tenacity or her directness. The fast-food giant, Jack in the Box, was one. When their global expansion threatened to breach the Oaks Historic District on the corner of North Street and 11th Avenue in Beaumont, Texas, across the street from Mrs. Roane's childhood home, she sprang into action. While the head of the historic preservation group dithered, Mrs. Roane papered the neighborhood with fliers, found the owners of every nearby home, and knocked on doors until she got more than 100 petitions signed. Marshalling a little-known ordinance, she finally forced the multi-billion dollar company to develop separate commercial property instead. The fast food restaurant, she would later complain, still spoiled the view from her property, but she was smug in knowing that she had prevented a dangerous precedent and creep that most on the city council were only too happy to oblige.
One other thing — she did all this while she was quite ill — in no time at all, she was going to learn she had six months to live.
Now about that six months. We cannot blame her doctor for being wrong. Despite being the daughter of a man once described as a country doctor (Dr. K. W. Rowe, Jr. even made house calls) and despite having been accepted to medical school herself, Mrs. Roane did not grace the doctor's door willingly. She had long been able to point out that she had reason for her aversion. Upon her family's advice, she had agreed to see a doctor once. She was in her 70s, still teaching school, and in need of high blood pressure medicine, or so they told her. Unfortunately, a rare allergic reaction to the prescription nearly killed her. As the possibility of asphyxiation drew near, Mrs. Roane drove herself back to the doctor’s office in a car nearly as old as herself -- just to give the physician a piece of her mind. The specialist who later diagnosed her with a terminal illness can be forgiven for just not knowing whom he was dealing with when Mrs. Roane hobbled through his door.
She was nothing, if not determined. That might explain the more than 50 years she spent shaping young minds as a science teacher at a variety of schools, from Forest Park High School in Houston, to All Saints Episcopal School in Beaumont and in the nearby Lumberton school system as well. Mrs. Roane was well-known and respected in each of these schools for a few things: her knowledge of her subject (she was a rarity, as she had majored in her subject matter — the hard sciences), her knack for enforcing discipline with the mere raising of an eyebrow, and her drive to teach all of her students even when they didn't want to be taught.
Mrs. Roane taught for so long that she ended up on occasion educating the children of her students, and she cut such a wide swath that in her later years she'd run into three or four former students in just one outing at a grocery store. In 2003, her son even came across one of her students in Fort Benning, Georgia. The boy, nursing a buzz cut and waiting for chow, admitted sheepishly that he'd not been the best pupil, but Mrs. Roane had done her damndest to turn him around.
Later, when her terminal illness had briefly gotten the better of her, Mrs. Roane recognized the kind nurse who tended to her; she had taught the woman as a student years before and had left a lasting impression on the young woman. As the nurse, Kelly Parker, noted upon hearing of her death, Mrs. Roane was “smart, kind, loyal and listened,” and would never be forgotten for the genuine encouragement and motivation she provided so long ago.
Mrs. Roane’s determination was matched at home. Her son is fond of saying that she's the only reason he's not pumping gas or doing time — and this is, embarrassingly, likely true. Mrs. Roane devoted her life to her son and daughter. A master at both drilling flash cards and putting on birthday parties (and who attempted mightily to learn how to correctly throw a curveball to her son), she made sure her children had ample love and every tool for success. And she always put them before herself.
Born in Terrell, Texas, in 1934, her greatest regret in life was likely that she did not become a physician. She was first knocked from this goal by the times (back in the early 1950s, even women graduating from pre-med programs at The University of Texas at Austin were discouraged from participating in a true profession). Then, decades later, she declined acceptance to medical school in Galveston, fearing that her children would suffer during the long stretches she was away.
The dream never died — medical school in the islands looked promising again — but then time, as it always does, finally ran out.
Besides being remembered fondly as a tenacious school teacher and a dutiful mother, Suzanne Roane will be recalled in Kerens, Texas as a bb-gun sharpshooter to rival Big Tex (inquiries should be made to Cousin Tenny Whorton, her childhood partner in crime), Beaumont High School's most beautiful homecoming queen (her loving sister, Linda Grinstead can vouch for this), Bolivar Peninsula's most fearless fisherman (a legend in my mind), and New Orleans’ most inquisitive bar patron (the jury is a multitude). She will be missed by many, and held tightly in the cherished memories of an honored few. So turn on some Hank Williams, Sr. and raise a glass, when you can — to our beloved Suzy Roane.
She is survived by her sister Linda Grinstead of Houston; her cousin, Tennyson Whorton of Kerens; her daughter Misty Roane of New Orleans, Louisiana; her son Kit R. Roane and his wife Katya Jestin of Brooklyn, NY; and three beloved grandchildren, Samuel, Madeleine and James Roane.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 21, 2014 at the Kerens Cemetery, off Cemetery Road in Kerens, Texas.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Methodist Children’s Home, 1111 Herring Avenue, Waco, TX 76708 (254-753-0181). There is also an online donation form here: https://www.methodistchildrenshome.org/forms/Donation.aspx
Arrangements made by Paschal Funeral Home, Kerens.