Sue Root

Sue Carolyn Buchheit Root was born in Bloomsburg, PA, on March 1, 1937, to George Buchheit and Natalie Briggs Buchheit. Both her parents were exceptional athletes, and Natalie was never so proud than when, as a young child, Sue threw a softball so hard, it cleared the backyard fence and broke a window in their neighbor’s house.
Sue attended Springfield High School in Springfield, IL, received her BA in 1959 from the University of Illinois, having spent her junior year at Smith College in Northampton, MA. In 1963, she earned a master’s degree in divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, CA, where she was one of only a handful of women students at the time.
Always an adventurous soul, Sue then drove her VW bug solo from Berkeley to Northampton, MA. On the final day of her drive, she decided to go all the way to Provincetown, MA, so that she could say she’d truly driven from coast to coast.Her next stop: Smith College, where she accepted the position of “religious college worker,” a common title for female MDivs before the Episcopal Church permitted women’s ordination.
In Northampton, she met The Reverend J. Gollan Root, then a young curate at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton. Sue and Gollie loved to tell the story that they got to know each other as the only single people invited to dinner parties. On the way home from one of them, Gollie proposed to Sue, who liked to remember, “We hadn’t even gone on an official date!” The couple married at Saint John’s on August 14, 1965.
Sue and Gollie shared a belief in service, social justice, and the transformative power of education. Sparked by Sue’s drive to spread international understanding and world peace at a grassroots level, they embarked on a move to Tororo, Uganda, just a few months after they married. There, Sue taught in the Tororo Girls School and Gollie served in a small parish. Daughter Ann was born in Mengo Hospital in Kampala, Uganda.
Upon returning to the United States in 1969, Sue and Gollie settled in Lee, MA, where Gollie became rector of Saint George’s Episcopal Church. Soon after, they welcomed son Stephen, born in Pittsfield Hospital.
Sue returned to professional life, doing administrative work for the painter Norman Rockwell, and later, when the family moved to Springfield, MA, becoming the International Student Advisor at American International College. She also served on the board of the World Affairs Council (“WAC”) of Western Massachusetts. In 1986, the board of the WAC opened a center in downtown Springfield, and Sue became the council’s first paid executive director, a post she would hold for the next 17 years.
They were years full of highlights: among them, a 1988 phone call from the White House, asking Sue if the WAC would host President Ronald Reagan as a speaker. The president wanted a nonpartisan organization to host a foreign policy speech; it would later be remembered as important in signaling freshU.S. relationships with the Soviet Union. Sue kept a copy of the speech, with the president’s notes; he mentions her by name in his opening lines.
Sue’s volunteer activity was also broad and deep, and she treasured her work as a member of the board of directors of the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, MA, where Sue and Gollie lived from 1981-2014. The role combined her global interests with her family’s sports background. She loved preparing for each hall of fame induction ceremony, and getting to know athletes from around the world.
As co-president of the Massachusetts Hokkaido Association, and administrator of the sister city relationship between Springfield, MA, and Takikawa, Hokkaido, she traveled to Japan more than a dozen times.On April 29, 2013, the Japanese government announced that the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, would be conferred upon Sue, “in recognition of her significant contributions to promoting friendly relations between Japan and the United States of America.” A tremendous honor, it marked the first time the order had been bestowed upon someone doing work in international relations in a grassroots capacity. The honor was celebrated with a ceremony in the Springfield Museums on November 8, 2013.
Sue had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just one month before the ceremony. It both terrified and angered her to have a great honor so coincident with a disease that strips away the intellect. She moved to New Hampshire only when she could no longer manage living alone. She came to Wheelock Terrace Assisted Living in 2014, because daughter Ann worked at nearby Dartmouth College. It meant that she could be a regular part of Ann’s family life during her final years, and they could be close to her as she declined.
The daughter of a basketball coach, Sue had basketball running through her veins. Almost until the end, she completed her own NCAA tournament bracket, and nothing thrilled her more than a Duke-versus-Kentucky matchup, since her dad had coached at both schools. Over long-distance phone calls, she and son Stephen would watch games together.
When she celebrated her 82nd birthday, even with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, she had memorable things to say:
“How old am I? 82? Wow… well, I couldn’t have done all the stuff I did in less time!”
And: “It’s not that I forget things, it’s just that after all this time, there is so much to remember!”