A life well-lived: Award-winning journalist and friend, extraordinaire, Susan Fadem, passed away Saturday at 73


By Ellen Futterman , Editor-In-Chief

Some people cannot help but make you feel good. The minute they enter the room, you break into a smile. It’s an involuntary reaction. They encapsulate the essence of what it means to truly brighten one’s day.

That was Susan Fadem. She was one of those people.

It’s almost as though she couldn’t help herself — her glee for life was so infectious. She charged into each day eager to learn, curious about her surroundings, genuinely interested in people, listening to them, and in how she could help leave this world in better shape than it was the day before.

When she learned of her diagnosis of Stage IV melanoma last fall, she made a deliberate decision to face each day with hope, and not take anything for granted. And she stayed true to her word until the end, which came late Saturday night, Sept. 3. Her daughters, Kimmie Fadem Donlon and Michelle Fadem Kashinsky were by her side in Portland, Ore., where Susan had moved in May, to be with them, their spouses, and her beloved “grand girls,” referring to this third chapter of life as the “Promised Land.” She would often remark after family dinners, tea parties and princess fashion shows with her three young granddaughters, “It’s days like this you just never want to end. I wish they could last forever.”


Susan Fadem was 73 years old.

I casually met Susan decades ago, when we were both young(er) reporters, she at the Globe-Democrat, me at the Post-Dispatch. But I didn’t get to know her until I started as editor of the Jewish Light 13-plus years ago, and Susan contacted me soon after about an article she wanted to write.

Thankfully, that article was the first of many outstanding contributions Susan made to the Light in the ensuing years. Her writing in so many ways perfectly reflected her persona — bright, witty, energetic, rhythmic, detail-oriented and filled with humanity. Check out this snippet from a 2016 Light magazine piece she wrote about an upsherin, the Jewish ceremony marking the first-time cutting of a 3-year-old boy’s hair:

“It might have been a Jewish hootenanny – tuneful rabbi playing guitar, variously garbed kids entwined on moms’ laps and legs, and large table with ample kosher buffet, still being amplified.

“But this gathering, on a recent Sunday in a chandeliered ballroom at the Clayton Plaza Hotel, was a cut above, as well as multiple snips and whacks below, especially when it came to young Leo Goldenberg’s flowing mane.

“His was not just any hair. It had not been cut during his first three years – waist length, poker straight and a red many admirers would have ‘dyed’ for.”

Susan won numerous awards for her journalism, including several for stories she wrote in the Light. And those were nice, sure, but what Susan deeply cared about was doing full-tilt justice in telling someone else’s story. Then again, she had an ease about her – and a megawatt smile that could light up Times Square– that made people want to open-up and trust her, to tell her about themselves. She knew that good writing starts with listening, and Susan was a champion listener, as well as an authentically kind-hearted, caring human being.

She was born on January 23, 1949, in St. Louis to Charlotte (Sigel) and Nat Sherman. She grew up in Olivette with her brother Mark and sister Wendy wanting to be Lois Lane. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, before landing her first newspaper job at the Globe-Democrat in the late 1960s.

Globe colleague Lucyann Boston was editing the weekend “Women’s/Society” section at the time and needed help writing wedding and engagement stories. She recalled: “Susan polished off those stories without even breathing hard and had time on her hands. I asked her if she would like to go out and cover some event; I have no idea what it was. What I distinctly remember was that she covered whatever it was, came back, wrote a story, handed it to me promptly, it read beautifully, was interesting and I was in heaven. She was a pro from the start.”

She stayed at the Globe for roughly 17 years in various stints as a news reporter, features writer, columnist and medical reporter, until the paper folded in 1986. She then worked for the St. Louis Sun before taking on editor positions at the Ladue News and St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles. She also authored four books — three about cats and one on kids.

She married Rod Fadem on Nov. 12, 1973, whom she was introduced to by the Globe’s gossip columnist at the time, Jerry Berger. They were married for 37 years (he died in 2010) and had daughters, Kimmie and Michelle. Susan took pride in being the first woman to go back to work fulltime at the Globe after having a baby (Kimmie).

A self-described “cultural Jew” with a flair for colorful fashion, Susan was a fan of arts extravaganzas and afternoons exchanging ideas about books, movies and plays. She loved art museums, film festivals (the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival was a favorite), traveling and learning about other cultures. She and Rod were members of the Alliance Francaise.

She was an expert Scrabble player, a lover of poetry and a voracious reader. And she was always, always up for an adventure.

Her friend, clinical psychologist Helen Friedman, described Susan’s parties as legend. “She asked me to facilitate a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book discussion/costume party. I accepted. What initially was to be a small soiree of friends in her Central West End apartment morphed into hundreds of invitees, along with professional photographer Marian Brickner, at the Mahler Ballroom. It was a blast!”

Friedman also is a charter member of the monthly movie salon Susan founded in 2002. In January, I wrote a story marking its 20th anniversary, in which Susan recalled its beginnings: “We went from maybe five people to eight people. Over the years, I have amassed three different email lists and there are now well over 300 people.”

Not all 300 people show up each month, she explained. As her friend, Dr. Ken Haller noted at the time, “Susan, in many ways, is a collector of strays.”

That’s probably because she never met a stranger. When news of her death began circulating among her friends over the weekend, I heard from dozens wanting to share fond memories of Susan. She mattered to so many people.

In 2019, she allowed me to tell Light readers the story of how she had found her true soulmate, Richard Andersen. The two met on Match.com. Richard was there, too, to tell his part. Clearly, theirs was a love that was very special, perhaps even more so given their ages at the time. At 70 (Susan) and 68 (Richard), these bike-riding vegetarians with a passion for the arts, gardening and the outdoors married in Portland, with their families in tow.  Both vowed to take nothing for granted.

“There are so many things that happen in the course of a day that we get to share,” Susan told me at the time. “I would be hard-pressed to say there is a time of day when all the highlights happen. But there is a joy and security of really being there for each other every day that makes my heart full.”

Sadly, Richard passed away in February, after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer in the brain.

After Susan passed away at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, Kimmie and Michelle sent out the following message:

“Our radiant and glorious mother, Susan Fadem, transitioned from the world last night as we each held her hand. Hers was the most gentle and peaceful letting go.  She had the faintest of almost smiles as her soul left her body like sparkling silver dust rising into the air. She is reunited with her beloved Richard after 7 months and 2 days. And we know she is on to celebrate greater adventures. We will always celebrate her.”

A funeral service will be held Friday, Sept. 9 at 11:30 a.m. at Bellerive Garden & Cemetery, 740 N. Mason Road, followed by a Shiva at 3 p.m. at Congregation Temple Israel, 1 Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin Drive. To honor her vibrant life, please wear the spirited colors that always adorned her signature head scarves.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The OLLI Scholarship Fund of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Washington University.