Updated March 28
Susan Allyn Safford (“Susie”) died in her sleep at her West Tisbury home on Feb. 11, 2023, with her husband Tony Omer by her side, after a courageous two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. She was 75.
She was born to Nancy French Safford and Ralph Kirkham Safford on June 10, 1947, in Hartford, Conn. Sally Spragg Safford, known as Mopsy, became her stepmother when she was 7. She was the youngest of four children, including Nancy, eldest sister Leila, and the eldest, her brother Kirk.
Susie lived her entire childhood in the New Haven area; summers were spent on Martha’s Vineyard. She graduated from Day Prospect Hill School in 1965.
As a child she learned to play tennis at the New Haven Lawn Club, and according to her best recollection she was good enough to play on the club’s girls travel team, until she discovered boys. She also developed a love of sailing, and became an elegant skier.
She attended Colorado Women’s College for one year, opting out for a more peripatetic life that included several cross-country car trips.
She moved to Boston and the Vineyard, and she roomed with soon-to-be-jeweler Cheryl Stark in both places. She had publishing jobs in Boston with the Atlantic Monthly and several small weeklies, and studied Transcendental Meditation. She waitressed at the Lampost in Oak Bluffs, and studied Spanish in an intensive program at a school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, run by the progressive educator Ivan Illich, where she also taught English.
She lived in the Haight in San Francisco in the late ’60s, and in Smithers, B.C., in a cave-like old mine, and had her own horse, then back to California and the canals in Venice, Calif., where she took woodworking and auto mechanics courses, classes at Santa Monica Community College (Arnold Schwarzenegger was a classmate), and learned to run printing presses while volunteering with the antiwar group Peace Press, a worker-owned print shop.
She moved back to Canada, Kamloops, B.C., where her brother lived. There she worked as a printer and skied, even owning her own snowmobile. She then hit the road again, for months in Mexico and Central America with her high school buddy and former Vineyard resident Carmel Gamble (now Ross).
Returning from Mexico to Los Angeles in 1977, Susie took a paying job with Peace Press. There she met her future husband, Tony, and his 2-year-old daughter Alexandra. While in L.A., she completed her undergraduate degree at Cal State L.A., studying English and anthropology. She spent a meaningful semester on a small rural farm in central Mexico. She gave birth to her daughter Sarah Omer in 1981.
In 1982 Susie and Tony began entertaining ideas about leaving L.A. Only two choices were on Susie’s list, both semirural areas and near oceans: Martha’s Vineyard and the Point Reyes Station area of West Marin, where her sister Leila lived since moving there with her husband — a founding member of the Youngbloods — in the late ’60s and where Susie had visited often. With driving help from a friend and new father-in-law Harold Omer, Susie and family drove two cars, one a 1965 VW van, to the Vineyard for good.
Soon after arriving on the Island, she organized a parent-run babysitting group, waitressed at the Black Dog, and was a substitute teacher. While enduring a long summer in a tent in the West Tisbury woods, with the two kids in a small trailer, she shucked scallops and baited codfish tubs, a smelly, late-night job. Once, while driving home in the early morning hours, she was stopped by a police officer who quickly sent her on her way when she rolled down her window and he got a whiff of her clothes.
In 1984, Susie and her family literally built their own house in West Tisbury, where she lived until her death.
She worked as a typesetter at the Vineyard Gazette, and as a typesetter, writer, photographer, and production manager at the alternative Vineyard paper, the Grapevine, until it closed its doors. She then took on the production manager’s job at the nascent Martha’s Vineyard Times, where she worked for more than 30 years, and was its longest-employed worker.
Her leadership at The Times has been praised by many of the former staff. Longtime Times editor Doug Cabral wrote, “She was the engine of The Martha’s Vineyard Times when I joined the newspaper in 1985. She was an indispensable leader.”
She also took photographs and wrote for The Times. Between Peace Press and the Martha’s Vineyard Times, Susie and her husband worked together for 40 years.
She served on the West Tisbury School building committee that oversaw the design and construction of the middle school and renovation of the school.
Her love of sailing was cut short by a revival of her interests in tennis and travel. She and Tony traveled, often with their racquets, to Europe and warm, sunny locales. She joined a Vineyard-based U.S. Tennis Association travel team, sometimes as captain, and collected a hefty trove of trophies. She played tennis two to three days a week, and in the winter added pickleball, until surgery related to her cancer forced her retirement.
She was an avid reader and crossword puzzler. At times she was in two reading groups simultaneously.
Despite her early counterculture lifestyle, she was a stickler for properly made beds, insisting on tight sheets with corners squared, and properly folded cloth napkins.
She was a gardener and a self-taught landscaper, crafting, over a 30-year period, a parklike yard. She created a beautiful yard for her daughter Sarah’s house in Oak Bluffs, including a vegetable garden with and for her granddaughter, Clementine deForest.
Retiring at age 67 from the Times, Susie volunteered regularly at Island Food Pantry, and was a valued volunteer at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, jobs she approached with the same balanced, thoughtful attention she brought to all phases of her life.
She was the go-to person when needed for family business, organizing the care and affairs of her mother, father, stepmother, and sister. Her decisions were seldom questioned.
Susie was a devoted mother to her daughter Sarah and stepdaughter Alexandra. She loved being a grandmother to her four grandchildren. In her retirement, no one held a more special place in her life than her granddaughter Clementine, who, through serendipity, benefited from many hours of time with her grandma on hikes and bikes, in the garden and in the kitchen.
She is missed by all those who knew her. She was a nonprejudiced, caring and loving person.
Susie is survived by her husband, Tony Omer of West Tisbury; daughter Sarah Omer and granddaughter Clementine deForest of Oak Bluffs; stepdaughter Alexandra Glover, her husband Mark, and grandchildren Cailin, Jaxon, and Xander of Solvang, Calif.; brother Kirk Safford and his wife Kristine of West Tisbury; sister Leila Corbitt and her husband John Aucoin of Point Reyes Station, Calif.; niece Jessica Corbitt of Lincoln City, Ore., and her daughter Bianca Zogbi of San Rafael, Calif.; and nephew Kirk Safford of Penticton, B.C., and his sons Leroy and Gabriel. She was predeceased by her parents, her stepmother, and her sister, Nancy Safford.
my thoughts are with Tony and family -Susie was even better and more interesting than her obituary-great loss too soon ..God Bless…
I knew Susie was cool, but now that I’ve read this, I’m realizing she was even cooler than that! So glad I knew her while I did and wish I’d gotten to know her better. We’ll miss you, Sooz.
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