Susan Safford, R.I.P.

Susie at her desk at the MV Times.

Susie Safford was the engine of The Martha’s Vineyard Times when I joined the newspaper in 1985. She was an indispensable leader in the fledgling organization that had been created a year earlier to challenge the long-in-the-tooth Vineyard Gazette. Then, and over decades, she carpentered each page of each week’s newspaper and dozens of ancillary publications. In those days it wasn’t laptops and iPhones. It was tediously cutting and pasting long columns of type and photographing the result, page after page. No matter, Susie and the team she led met every deadline. Weekdays, long days, evenings, weekends, as the startup struggled, succeeded, and struggled some more, Susie, always clear and kind and meticulous, made the music happen.

MV Times 1988 cover.

Good newspapers are fractious enterprises. As in the communities they watch over, there is no instinct for like-mindedness, not among the news gatherers, nor the techies, nor the editors, and particularly not among the readers. Egos and interests and opinions flourish. It is a torrent, and the newspaper’s goal must be to live in the middle of it and to reflect it all. Instinctually, Susie understood all that and embraced it. She was a soothing balm that quieted the clamor as she made the very most of her work on behalf of the paper and its staff, her neighbors, her countless friends, and the broader community of readers among whom she lived. 

Don’t get me wrong, Susie knew when something had gone awry, and she never gave it a pass, though her rebukes were gently framed. She was a quiet, devoted force for good. For instance, whenever I had done or said or written something foolish, she let me have it, guns blazing, but in her muted way. “Oh, Doug …” she would say with a sigh, her despair and profound exasperation unmistakable.

When I left the paper in 2014 after 30 years with Susie, she remained, still pushing the paper out the door each Thursday, whatever that week’s fresh challenge was. Now life, wretchedly indifferent as always, has retired her. Sooner than it should have. Thankfully, the mark she leaves behind is indelible.