Retired Spotlight editor Susan Graves dies at 66
The obituary was short. Two paragraphs noted that Susan Graves had died, and not a lot more.
Her former colleague of 10 years Dev Tobin saw the irony for The Spotlight editor who had always taken such particular care with death notices in the paper.
Obituaries are a person’s last story, and Sue wanted to make sure they were correct and complete, Tobin said.
That attention to detail is one thing people remember about Graves, who died Wednesday, Feb. 3. Her nearly 20-year career at Spotlight Newspapers began as a reporter at one paper, and ended as executive editor of 12 papers. She’d often hand a corrected proof newspaper page back to a reporter with so much red ink on it that it looked bloodied.
`Sue had been a teacher before she was an editor,` Tobin said. `She fit that into her editor’s job seamlessly. She was exacting, and wanted things done right, but she was also patient. She was committed to fixing up the copy, then talking it through with reporters, showing them how to make a story lively and correct.`
`She was fierce, passionate, smart and hilarious,` said Michael Larabee, one of many who started their post-college careers as a reporter at The Spotlight. `She was also massively disorganized, but that was part of her charm.`
After starting as a reporter in 1990, Larabee wanted to become a copy editor at The Spotlight.
`Sue wouldn’t let me copy edit until I could turn in completely clean copy,` Larabee said. `I’d always screw something up. I had a lot of trouble with the word ‘its’ and apostrophes, and Sue always made a fuss about the error. I thought she was making a bigger deal out of it than it warranted, when I’d turned in what I hoped was a great story. Her point was that it wasn’t such a great story if a mistake took the reader’s attention away from the subject matter.`
Today, Larabee completely agrees that the little things are essential. He did become a copy editor at The Spotlight, and today, the former Voorheesville resident is the letters and local opinions editor at The Washington Post.
Tobin and Larabee recalled that Graves was able to support the community while still maintaining objectivity. For many years, Graves worked only with the Bethlehem edition of The Spotlight.
`She had a good sense of news and what was going on in Bethlehem,` Tobin said.
Former Bethlehem supervisors Ken Ringler and Sheila Fuller remember Graves’ contributions to the town.
`We’d sit down every week, Sue, the reporter, and I,` Ringler, who was supervisor from 1990 ` 1993, said. `We had great conversations, shared a lot of opinions and had a lot of laughs. She would take me to task sometimes, and sometimes there were things I’d tell her I couldn’t discuss. I didn’t like everything she wrote, but she was always fair.`
Fuller was a member of the Bethlehem school board when she first met Graves, and was later a town board member, then supervisor.
`Whenever I was running for office, I’d go in and meet with Sue,` Fuller said. `She cared about everything going on in town and wanted to be well-versed on the issues. I was always pleased that she worked hard to get things covered as they should have been.`
Ringler also recalled once seeing Graves outside of her professional life, where she was usually quiet and an intense listener.
`I was with Dick and Mary Ahlstrom, who used to own The Spotlight, at a Willie Nelson concert,` Ringler recalled. `We were looking at the 20-somethings down in front, tossing things at Willie on stage, and I noticed someone I knew. ‘Isn’t that Susan?’ I asked the Ahlstroms, and watched their jaws drop.`
Nelson was one of Graves’ favorites, as was the female country singer Patsy Kline. Graves combined her passion for animals with her love of country music by naming her beloved Scottie dogs Willie and Patsy.
`The only thing we ever disagreed about was what breed of dog I should get,` said Barbara Vink, the public information specialist at the Voorheesville Public Library. The Spotlight runs weekly columns from local libraries, and Vink recalled that Graves always made sure the Voorheesville library column was in the paper.
`Sue loved literature and reading; freedom of information and people’s right to access that information,` said Gail Sacco, director of the Voorheesville Library. `She understood that libraries are an important place to get information, and she was always a champion of the library.`
Sacco said she interacted with Graves not only as the library director, but as a resident of Bethlehem, in particular as a parent of children in the Bethlehem schools.
`We talked a lot and shared viewpoints,` Sacco said. `If I called her, she’d always listen and consider my perspective. She was always diligent about understanding and presenting both sides. She had a lot of creativity and vision, and she really let it shine through the paper.`
`She didn’t hesitate to express her opinions,` Vink said. `She had that gravelly voice, which made her seem like an old-time, cigar-smoking editor.`
Current Bethlehem Supervisor Sam Messina got to know Graves more than 20 years ago, when he and John Smolinsky co-founded Bethlehem Citizens for Responsible Planning.
`There was a lot of growth and development happening in town, and there was no planning department, no comprehensive plan,` Messina said. Messina was also part of the town-established Land Use Management Advisory Committee (LUMAC).
`We developed what we believed was a good comprehensive plan,` Messina said. `Sue’s editorials were very supportive, and she recommended adopting it. In talking with Sue, I never felt my time was rushed, nor that she wouldn’t listen, even if she didn’t agree.`
Messina and Graves connected on another important matter; both suffered the death of an adult child.
`My wife, Jan, Sue and I all talked and even had lunch together after Sue’s son died,` Messina said. `People who experience that want to see what others have done; how they’ve survived that loss.`
It was rare that Graves’ personal life crossed into her work life.
`My mother compartmentalized her life,` Graves’ surviving son Scott DeLong said. `We knew as little of her work life as work colleagues knew of her private life.`
DeLong said his mother had a knack for creating a wonderful home, and combined parenting and work ` and a few other things ` well.
`My mother had her children when she was 19 and 20,` DeLong said. `She went to college and earned a master’s degree when we were small, and eventually, she was a single mother. We were nomadic until we settled into a house in Albany, but there was always a delicious, candlelit dinner on the table.`
Graves’ name was Susan Ryan when she taught English at the Albany Academy for Girls.
`I used to hold up a copy of Cliff’s Notes at the beginning of each year and tell my class I never wanted to see this,` Graves recounted once. `Then I’d hurl it across the room.`
`My mother went to school and worked, but it never seemed like she was gone a lot,` DeLong said. `I’m grateful for all the things she did for us ` it’s made me who I am today.`
Tobin also recalled that Graves cheerfully handled many different things at once.
`When Eagle Newspapers bought The Spotlight in 1999, they expanded the number of papers,` he said. `Sue remained helpful and supportive, and juggled a lot of balls, always cheerfully.`
Tobin said Graves’ thoughtfulness was epitomized when he made a trip to Europe and offered to visit the American graveyard in Luxembourg where her father had been buried after dying in The Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
`Sue never knew her father,` Tobin said. `I was going to Europe and had located the graveyard where he was buried, and offered to take a picture of his grave. She gave me $20 to buy flowers to put at his grave. Her thoughtfulness even extended to someone she’d never met.`
Current Spotlight Publisher John McIntyre first met Graves when he was working with Eagle Newspapers, and the Syracuse-based company bought Spotlight Newspapers ` then just The Spotlight, Colonie Spotlight and the Loudonville Weekly ` in 1998. After the purchase, Graves became the executive editor and Tobin the managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
`Sue was completely committed to the community,` McIntyre said. `For the first six months I worked there, she carted me around and introduced me to every source. Many of those relationships I still have today.`
Larabee also recalled that she never shied away from difficult conversations.
`Sue had a way of empathizing with people while holding her ground,` he said.
McIntyre said Graves excelled at producing a polished product, and working with young reporters and interns.
`The second year I was with Spotlight, we won 14 awards at the New York Press Association,` McIntyre said. `As we grew, Sue had to teach more and delegate, but she never lost sight of what was important, covering the community.`
`Sue really believed in community journalism,` Larabee said. `She made it fun and we all felt it was important.`
Graves never lived in Bethlehem, but it’s in that town she’s best remembered.
`It was her community as much as anyone’s,` Messina said. `She did her job well and she’ll be missed.`
Susan Graves, Former Executive Editor of Spotlight Newspapers
By JOHN McINTYRE
Former Executive Editor of Spotlight Newspapers Sue Graves had an understanding for what the story was, not just the superficial events that described what was happening that particular week. She would set up meetings with the school board members, town supervisors, or the police chief to get the background before there was any story.
This week she is a story in her own beloved Spotlight.
Susan Graves, 66, of Troy died at the Albany Medical Center after a short illness.
She leaves a son, Scott Delong (Suzanne) of Altamont, grandson Taylor (T.K. she called him), and two brothers, William Andrews of Melrose and Michael Andrews of Oakland, Calif. She was blessed with many friends, especially her special friend and companion John (Ringo) Pakatar.
She was pre-deceased by her son, Kevin, who died in 2005 and her parents, Mary Olive Andrews in 2009 and John Graves in 1944.
Sue began her family at a young age while working for New York Telephone. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree cum laude and master’s degree in English from the University at Albany in 1973 and 1974, respectively.
Sue was an educator first and foremost. She taught English at the Albany Academy for Girls from 1974-1984. She also was the developer and then director of the Albany Academy for Girls summer program from 1976 to 1979. Her name while at the Academy was Susan Ryan.
She began her journalism career in 1984 as a general assignment reporter for the Troy Record. Sue advanced to copy editor before leaving the paper in 1989 to join The Spotlight. She was also an accomplished freelance writer for the Capital District Business Review.
Sue was the managing editor for The Spotlight until 1998 when she was promoted to executive editor. She retired in 2007. The Spotlight received many awards during her tenure, including 23 first place and more than 40 other awards from the New York Press Association.
Her avocation as teacher continued at the Spotlight, where she worked with young reporters and interns to polish skills they needed to succeed at the next level. Graduates of the Spotlight `school of hard knocks` reach all over the media and public relations industry.
Each year, she organized and judged newsletter contests for NYSUT and AFTCA.
Among her other passions were music and the love of animals. She loved the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and Scottie dogs.
The Spotlight was Sue’s community. Even in retirement, she continued to follow town and regional events, and she often called to say she would handle certain things.
The newspaper will miss her. “