Most people, no matter how good they are and how important their jobs, work pretty much behind the scenes. And sometimes, literally, in the dark. Like Suzanne Kubota, my pal, partner in crime and editor who died suddenly July 2.
Suzanne worked mostly off the grid and – with a nearly 200 mile roundtrip commute from Pennsylvania – came in when it was dark. To handle our website, do a million chores, write her very popular NUF feature, and edit this column which she likened to “herding cats, except more-so.”
She, of course, was kidding!
Dozens of us here at Federal News Radio and WTOP Radio claim to have loved her most. And to have been her favorite.
Suzanne was as smart as they come, funny, irreverent, compassionate and – in this age of super-sensitivity – didn’t have a politically correct bone in her body. Every day, no matter how serious things were, was comedy central.
She and I would do lunch about once a week, talking about a variety of things: work, the cultural impact of the Protestant Reformation, the career of movie star Helen Mirren, pending legislation, why Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish, the quality of Burt Reynolds’ hairpiece, and how World War I set the stage for World War II. Stuff like that. If she didn’t know it, she wanted to know it.
She was a World War II expert, in part because her father had helped train members of the 442nd Regimental Combat team (I believe the most decorated unit in the Army) composed of Japanese-Americans. One team member, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) lost an arm in Italy.
When Suz joined the brand-new Federal News Radio operation, she thought FERS was something you wore and the TSP was what you kept in the bathroom. But she learned very, very fast. She could (and often did) spot a federal angle to a story a mile away. And pass it on to me or others on the staff – making us look good, which is what she liked.
She kept a square cardboard box on her desk. She said it was her retirement fund. Staffers contributed to it (she specified pennies) whenever they had to borrow her electronic entry card for the building. It had swollen to $1.99 at the time of her death.
Like a lot of people in the media biz – even those with recognized bylines, booming radio voices or great hair – Suzanne was basically very shy. She liked working in the background, making other people write and sound better than they would have without her. She liked making this column better (which she often did) even though I always got the credit.
She did have one vanity spot. Her Nearly Useless Factoid feature which appeared regularly in this space. It often got more comments and/or fan mail than the column itself.
On those rare occasions when somebody complained that the NUF wasn’t funny, educational, accurate, or was offensive, she would be visibly hurt. And send them a lengthy note of explanation and/or apology. Then, under her breath, she would cast an evil curse using terms your mother would not sanction.
Suzanne genuinely liked feds and retirees, and especially military people. And it showed. Along the way, she picked up a lot of fans and email buddies which, after getting paid, is the most rewarding aspect of this job.
Although she died over the holiday weekend, lots of people got word anyhow and sent us notes which I think should be part of this column. The problem:
I know that Suzanne, in her most stern School Marm voice would say “Mr. Causey, (she called me Mr. only in moments of major tension or high drama) these letters will make the column much, much longer than usual. It is your call of course. I just wanted you to be aware of that.”
Normally I would cave. Grovel like a dog. Slink away like a rat. I would heed her warning and either edit or drop the letters.
But not this time. Sorry Suz, but I bet you $1.98 that you grin when you read them:
“Mike, I was shocked and so sorry to read about Suzanne’s passing. I never met her personally but I cherish the emails we exchanged over the last several years. It always impressed me that she took the time to connect with me. I know your column will survive, but somehow it won’t be the same! Still…..Keep Up The Good Work!” – Mike In Houston
“I have driven the very same commute as Suzanne for the past year from PA to DC. East Berlin is a few miles north of where I live in Abbottstown and I work at the Census Bureau in Suitland. My guess is she daily drove right past my place on PA Route 194. I wish I had known her — she would have been a very interesting commuting buddy for those long two-hour drives! I can see how you miss her.” – Sally
“Oh my gosh – what happened? I feel much sorrow at the passing of Suzanne Kubota. I learned a lot about her upon reading Jason Miller’s piece on remembering Suzanne Kubota. She sounds like a person who made the world a better place with her life.” – Debbie
“Sorry and stunned to hear about Suzanne. A great loss for all of us but none more than you. My condolences.” – Steve Bauer, FEEA Executive Director
“My condolences to you and the staff. I almost always clicked her NUF link after reading your column. I could never get enough NUF. She will be missed by her friends and coworkers, and her work by your readers.” – Larry Brady
“It is with a heavy heart that we extend our sympathy to you and the entire staff at Federal News Radio for the loss of a wonderful human being, Suzanne Kubota, who always helped us start off our day with amazing factoids. Thank you for sharing her with us.” – H. Ray Harrington, president, NARFE Chapter 0352, Paradise, CA
“Not being entirely sure who else to write to, I am sending this to you in hopes it will get passed on to her family, or at least to the radio family there in DC. I have read your column, and with it the Nearly Useless Factoid for an awfully long time. In addition, I have had a sometime correspondence with Suzanne over the NUF, sometimes commenting, sometimes contributing, and occasionally borrowing from her for my own feature, a podcast here at our IRS toll-free call site. I have always been impressed by the wit she used in her feature and after I became a bit more acquainted with her style, with the high degree of research she put into the factoid before it was published – she caught me on a couple. After all this, it came as a definite shock to find we’d lost this fine journalist and wonderfully creative and expressive person. It has been a pleasure to have worked with her, to however small a degree. Please extend my sympathies and condolences to the family and the staff there at FNR.” – Jon
“I was stunned by the news about Suzanne Kubota. Please pass on from me to Suzanne’s family and friends my heartfelt sympathy for their loss. Obviously I only knew Suzanne from her work on your column and the factoids but I, for one, will miss her digital touch and playful sense of humor.” – Laurel Costen
“I have written you and Suzanne over the years and have always found you both to be an amusing and informative start to my day. I wish my deepest sympathies to you and the staff there for her loss. I will greatly miss our email chats. Please take care, God bless.” – Dixie Cansler
“I’m so very sorry about Suzanne! I feel as though I lost a friend…there were many times I would email a comment and a conversation ensued. I often forwarded the NUF to non-fed friends and they loved them. Please accept my condolences….I’m sure it’s very tough on you and the rest of the staff-losing a comrade in arms is incredibly difficult.” – Diane W. Helton
“My sympathies go out to the entire staff at Federal News Radio. Suzanne’s footnote NUF’s added a cheerful ending to your daily columns and I always looked forward to reading the tidbits she came up with day to day. Her passing is a loss for all of us!” – Bill
“…several times over the years, it has been my pleasure to have e-mailed SK on various NUF things she posted. She was witty and I enjoyed her replies. I have no doubt you will miss her, I do already.” – Mike H.
“I was very saddened to read of Suzanne’s death. I enjoyed our conversations and passed on many of her never useless factoids to others.” – John Elliott
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn Suzanne has passed. We have been emailing since September of ’07 when I complained about a Causey column link issue and she kindly replied. Since then, when I would catch the very occasional boo-boo or bad link, I would just email Suzanne directly; we both have ridiculous commutes and very early start times, so few others saw errors before Suzanne fixed them ‘live’. She always made comments/corrections/suggestions welcome; she will be sincerely missed.” – Susie S.
“We shall surely miss Suzanne Kubota. I always enjoyed the wit and humor she included in the NUF. That was one way I started my day on a high point. Our prayerful condolences go to her family and her friends at Federal News Radio.” – Milt A
“Mike – I have to express my sympathy at Suzanne’s sudden passing. I never knew her but every day I looked forward to her NUF (I felt like I knew her!!). It is more than sad to hear how young she was at death. I’m sure you all are in deep mourning. My sympathies to Suzanne’s family and to you all.” – T.S., Afghanistan