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Obituary: Susie Jarrell

Submitted by Kent Jarrell.

Susan Perkins Jarrell died Monday, January 24, 2022, at the Saybrook at Haddam, an assisted living facility where she was a resident. She was 105.

Susie is predeceased by her husband, Oscar W. Jarrell, and survived by her daughter Peggy of New York City; a son Timothy and his wife Holly of Haddam, and son Kent and his wife Patricia of St. Petersburg, Florida. She is predeceased by her daughter Stephanie.  Susie has nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Before moving to Haddam, Susie was a pianist and organist on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. She was the first teacher at Nantucket Community Music Center when it opened in 1974. Susie created the Nantucket Organ Crawl to highlight the historic and unique pipe organs of the Unitarian Universalist Church, First Congregational Church, St. Mary’s Church, the United Methodist Church, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The event features both renowned and local organists.

Susie was active in the Unitarian Church where she served as music director and organist after her move to Nantucket.  She was especially honored to play the historic Goodrich Organ at the church and played a prominent role in its preservation.

Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Susie graduated from the Hartridge School. Her father lost his job on Wall Street during the depression when Susie was a teenager. She babysat and gave piano lessons to help support the family. She attended New College, then part of Teachers College at Columbia majoring in Education. In the summer of 1938, she studied in Berlin, witnessing firsthand events leading up to World War II. Two close friends were a prominent American journalist and a British secret service agent who used her as cover to attend events as part of their intelligence gathering. The British spy was later captured and executed. After she and other students were sent home abruptly out of safety concerns, Susie left school and accepted a teaching job in a mining camp in Ecuador. After a two-week boat trip to Guayaquil, an overnight boat ride along the coast and an 8-hour trip by mule through the jungle she arrived in Portovelo. There she met her future husband, Oscar W. Jarrell, a mining geologist. For several months, the couple worked in separate camps and continued their courtship by shortwave radio over a public frequency. The two were married in 1940 in Guayaquil and honeymooned in Peru.

After leaving Ecuador, the couple lived in Cuba, Washington and New York as Oscar worked on mining projects for the war effort including the Manhattan project. Susie taught music at Riverside Church and The Browning School. After the War, the couple lived in Cyprus, Los Angeles and New York City before they settled in Needham, Massachusetts. Susie was the junior choir director of the Needham Unitarian Church and was one of the first teachers in the Head Start program in Boston. She was a strong supporter of METCO, a newly established program creating opportunities for children from the inner-city schools by bringing them to suburban schools.

After Oscar died in 2002, Susie enjoyed island life and extensive travel with Nantucket resident Bill Hance.

Even as she turned 100 and beyond, Susie continued her musical passion by offering piano lessons and playing in small musical quartets. On her 100th birthday, the Nantucket Inquirer Mirror noted that she was working on an organ duet with Unitarian Church music director Diane Lehman. It was a piece by noted Jazz composer Joe Utterback. “This is modern jazz on an 1831 organ,” Susie said.  Even in assisted living, Susie played the piano accompanying the facility’s holiday choir.

Susie summed up the secret to her long life and adventures to “men, music and Manhattans.”

Services will be announced later. Donations in her honor may be made to the Nantucket Community Music Center or Second Congregational Meeting House Society Unitarian Universalist.

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