Susan Bellows (Sukie) Rice, 1945-2020

Memorial Minute for Susan (Sukie) Bellows Rice, 1945-2020

            Susan (Sukie) Rice was born in New Rochelle, NY on November 1, 1945 to Charles D. and Winifred Rice. She grew up in an old farmhouse in the countryside, about an hour by train from Manhattan. There, her love of music, theater, cats, dogs, and the world of nature took root in the warmth of a loving home. In the 1960’s, after earning a BA in Psychology at Hiram College, she went to work for an advertising agency in New York City. Simultaneously, she immersed herself in the Morningside Heights Friends Meeting.

The Society of Friends became a lifelong source of strength and inspiration for Sukie. As the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship grew in importance for her, her work in commercial advertising held less and less allure. In 1969 she left New York City and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she worked at two Boston area hospitals during the 1970s. Here, she threw herself into a host of nonviolent civil disobedience actions against the Vietnam War, some of which led to her arrest, and one to a couple of weeks in jail. As the Vietnam War was ending, she joined the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). There, she allied AFSC with the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance, and helped train protesters and organize successive nonviolent occupations of the construction site of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.

In 1971 Sukie met and fell in love with Lee Chisolm. Later, they would acknowledge to each other that it was indeed love at first sight. Through Lee she was introduced to Anthroposophy, the spiritual philosophy and teachings of Rudolph Steiner. From that seed, planted early in her consciousness and cultivated through study motivated by her deep love and admiration for Lee, together they formed a shared spiritual path. Steiner’s teachings came to be the cord that strengthened and infused their lives as a couple and produced meaning and purpose in their work together in the world. Anthroposophy, along with Quaker faith and practice, became the foundation from which Sukie grew in spirit and presence. And in Lee’s own words, “she drew ideas from the ozone. She was a natural conduit for spiritual inspiration.” 

In the late 1970s Sukie and Lee moved to Maine, where Sukie joined the Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends in 1979. In the 1980s Sukie and Lee moved to Freeport, where they started a family. When their first child, Adam, was not quite three, Sukie and Lee resolved to start a Waldorf School. For the next several years, Sukie worked indefatigably. She held informational and fundraising events, pulling together a nucleus of founding parents, a teacher, and eventually a class. What began as a little kindergarten of a dozen students continues today as a mature K-12 school known as the Maine Coast Waldorf School.

As her children grew older, Sukie enrolled in the University of Southern Maine in the 1990s for a degree in music education, and for the next twenty years she was a full time K-5 music teacher in the Portland Public Schools. She also acted with the Freeport Community Players, later becoming their musical director. In this role, she worked on a handful of plays and annual performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors for seven years. Stepping away from the Freeport Community Players, Sukie next founded the Greater Freeport Community Chorus, which she directed for six years.

Sukie was an active member of Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends for four decades. She served the meeting in a variety of roles over the years, sometimes wearing multiple hats. For many years she was the music director for the meeting’s annual Christmas and Easter choirs. She also served on Ministry and Counsel, Peace and Social Concerns Committee, Finance Committee, and as both Recording Clerk and Presiding Clerk. 

In 2001 Sukie was inspired by a small group of Quaker women from Kenya who were providing a feeding program to AIDS orphans in their community of Kakamega. Sukie volunteered her time extensively to support this program, ultimately founding Friends of Kakamega, a New England based program that partners with its Kenyan counterparts to support their grassroots mission. Through her work with Friends of Kakamega, Sukie spent the last two decades of her life helping to support the well-being and education of vulnerable children in western Kenya, giving hope to hundreds of young Africans. True to her character, she grew to know, love, and individually connect with both the children served by the project, and the Americans who embraced the opportunity that Sukie gave them to help. Her son John has continued that work at the Kakamega Care Center.

Trailblazer that she was, later in life Sukie also devoted time to exploring the topic of death and dying and the spiritual journey of the soul during this final passage. This in turn led her to the next frontier of green burial for herself as well as others. With the assistance of family, close friends and members of the Durham Friends Meeting, she realized her desire to be buried in this manner and so opened the way for others to follow in the newly dedicated lot for green burials in the Lunt Cemetery.

Sukie’s great energy, compassion, and integrity guided her life in remarkable ways. As one Friend described her so well, “Sukie has been the spark and flame of a better life for so many.” While her work and life were always filled with purpose and encouragement, particularly memorable was her joy. Sukie asked us to remember her joy. We do, Sukie. We surely do.

Sukie passed from this life on July 17, 2020.  She is survived by her husband, Lee Chisholm, and sons Adam, Ian, and John Chisholm.