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 "she had indeed been a very remarkable woman." [VEIL] 

With every passing year, the world of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts loses some of our own. While it's to be expected as part of the circle of life, it's heart wrenching each time we have to stand "on the terrace" for our dearly departed friends.

And no more so than in the case of Susan Rice, ASH, BSI, 2s. ("Beeswing"). Susan received her investiture in the Baker Street Irregulars in 1991 and the Two Shilling Award in 2002. Her investiture in the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes was "A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen," granted in 1981.

We've known Susan for almost as long as we've been involved in Sherlockian circles, first having met her at an Autumn in Baker Street in the mid-1990s. And despite being the resident wordsmith around these parts, we were struck dumb upon her death on September 28. 

Even if we did find our voice to properly honor her memory at this time, it simply wouldn't be enough. You see, Susan's impact on the world of Sherlock Holmes deserved more than a single voice remembering her. She touched many lives and touched them deeply—so deeply that we thought it appropriate to have her honored by a number of voices, and particularly voices of those who were closest to her.

Susan ran ASH Wednesday gatherings until recently. She took over the annual William Gillette Luncheon from Lisa McGaw and ran it for decades before passing it along as well. Obviously, there are decades more that preceded these recent organizations, but Susan was an able administrator who ran things with a schoolteacher's stringency and a loving hand.

John Bennett Shaw, BSI ("The Hans Sloane of My Age") has been called the Johnny Appleseed of the Sherlockian movement, planting his influence all over the country as he met people, corresponded with them, and brought them together for his conferences.

Susan Rice might be best remembered as the Lady Liberty of the Sherlockian movement, welcoming everyone, regardless of how they came to Holmes, what their interests are, or any other aspect of their lives. Susan made her home in New York City, lifting her lamp beside a golden door to Sherlockian circles, offering a warm welcome to anyone who wished to enter:

"A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame."

Rather than nattering on in a way that doesn't do her memory justice, we'll turn this over to a small group of people whose lives Susan undeniably touched.

The first goes back the farthest.

Curtis Armstrong, BSI ("A Fine Actor")

Susan Rice, while a young teacher at the Kingswood School in the toney Bloomfield Hills suburb of Detroit, lived in an apartment many teachers would’ve given their eye-teeth for. When I close my eyes, I can still walk through it.  

Not that that was difficult, because it was a two-room, tiny place, with a kitchenette and bathroom, but to me it seemed like heaven. For one thing it was located in Cranbrook Gardens, the park surrounding the old Dodge Estate. Not near the gardens—smack in the middle of them, overlooking the walled gardens themselves, what may have been the original kitchen garden of the estate.  Her apartment was in one the towers in this eccentric layout, and it was beautiful, especially when the park itself was closed to the public, in the winter and after a snowfall. 

Anyway, it was what happened once you got inside the apartment that the real magic happened.  I keep meaning to look through the boxes of old Baker Street Journals that I have stored away somewhere to find that issue of the Journal that changed everything for me. One reason I particularly would like to find it is because Susan and I, in after years, could never remember if it was 1969 or 1970. It doesn’t matter and I have always said it was 1969. It announced the formation of a new scion Society in Bloomfield Hills, calling itself The Trifling Monographs. The contact information was Susan’s address in Cranbrook Gardens. I wrote her, requesting information about the next meeting. I don’t recall a phone conversation, though there may have been one.

Sometime later, I received a packet in the mail.  Everything in that packet was donated years ago to the BSI Trust, including things like the By-Laws and Initiation.  I did keep a copy of Susan’s cover note to me, invited me and a friend of mine at the time, Cheryl, who was experiencing a fleeting interest in Sherlock Holmes, to the next meeting the following Saturday.

Susan's note to Curtis (courtesy of Curtis Armstrong)

I remember being particularly impressed by the fact that she had to change the time of the meeting because she had a luncheon in Detroit. Not lunch. Luncheon!  

Our meetings consisted of discussions about previously assigned stories, imaginatively designed quizzes, and just socializing. We were nerds, after all, and Susan’s apartment was a safe space for us.  One of the rare Monograph meetings not held at Susan’s was a dinner at my house, celebrating The Master’s birthday in January 1972. As Susan later reported it in the Baker Street Journal, the menu consisted of “grouse and a little something choice in wines.” (We had all turned 18 by then). I can guarantee that her description made it sound better than it was. As I recall, Cheryl and I had prepared Cornish Game Hen, and garlic bread. To choke down the feast, we had a bottle of Liebfraumilch or something equally lethal. My parents, good eggs that they were, had made themselves scarce that evening, giving the Sherlockians the run of the place.

And Susan, bless her, had made special arrangements for the evening. One of the guests that night was none other than Robert G. Harris, BSI ("The Creeping Man"), of the legendary Amateur Mendicant Society. Probably the biggest “get” in the Detroit Sherlockian community at that time, Bob Harris, accompanied by his wife, arrived bearing a Tantalus, a gasogene and a lot of stories. This was a man who, when referring to Christopher Morley, called him “Kit.” Truly, Jupiter had descended that night.  Harris was Susan’s Sherlockian mentor in the same way that she was ours.  

There were never any restrictions placed on discussion within our little group, and I felt free to talk there in a way I just didn’t with my school friends. We all of us had an instinctive sense of where the limits were, and were we to go too far astray, Susan had the good educator’s ability to rein us in without seeming to. 

She was never a collector, but she did have books that we didn’t have, the cherished Writings on the Writings, which we could borrow if we were interested. There was only one book on her shelves she refused to lend us and that one still makes me smile. 

She had been to Greece, she told us, and while there had found next to her on a bus, a paperback book left behind by a previous rider.  The title was The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by J.Watson. There was much laughter and she let us leaf through it but the book remained on the restricted list.  Many years later, after moving to New York, I found a copy of the book in, of all places, Christopher Morley’s favorite bookshop, Medoza’s, on Ann Street.  It has remained in my collection, unread, ever since.  

On moving to Los Angeles, I reconnected with one of my erstwhile Monographs, Lucy Chase Williams, who I hadn’t seen since Detroit days. We agreed to meet in a bar in Hollywood and I jokingly said she should wear something distinctive, so I would recognize her. As I walked in that evening, there she was, at the bar, prominently displaying her copy of The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for me to see. It appears that during the Monograph’s diaspora, acquiring a copy of Susan’s forbidden book had become a kind of badge of honor! 

Years later, Susan invited me to my first BSI weekend, and the year after, I was invited to my first dinner. As the evening ended, with famous Irregulars as far as the eye could reach, Susan dropped into the seat next to me.

“Okay,” she said, smiling. “Who do you want to meet?”

Thanks to Susan Rice, I never looked back.

A newer attendee of the "weekend" shows how Susan still had that same touch.

Nancy Holder, BSI ("Beryl Garcia")

During my first BSI weekend, I was new to the process of securing reservations for all the different events and I neglected to make a reservation for the Gillette luncheon. I emailed Susan from my room at the Yale Club the morning of. She immediately wrote me back and said, "Come on down anyway! We'll find you a place!" 

And she did. She greeted me warmly, sat me down with all my new friends, and I immediately felt at home. I think that was the same year she won the Babes Ball costume contest for dressing either as a bee or a beehive. By then I already knew that she  was the bee's knees.

Susan, sporting her classic beehive at at the Gillette Luncheon

Over on the Studies in Starrett blog there's a slight detour titled "This is a Fan Letter." These are some excerpts.

Ray Betzner, BSI ("The Agony Column")

Courtesy of Ray Betzner

Susan was one of those rare folks that everyone admired. That was born out with the ear-splitting cry that went up when Tom Stix called her name as one of the first round of women invested into the BSI. (You can hear it yourself via Episode 89 of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. If you were there, it is a grand memory to relive. And if you weren’t there, this was a historic moment you may enjoy.)

It wasn’t until the 1992 BSI dinner that she and I chatted for a while and we learned of our mutual admiration for Vincent Starrett. Susan had long been a fan of his work and I was just beginning my fascination with the fellow. Susan, who owned many of his books while always claiming not to be a collector, encouraged me to get a hold of Starrett’s books about books. I made a note to do so. 

It was a pleasant talk, the first of many along those lines.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I got a letter from Susan Rice in the mail. It was my first (and only) fan letter. I know this was a fan letter because Susan states clearly at the top: “This is a fan letter.” I don’t know many shades of crimson that went across my face as I read it, but looking at it now, 28 years later, I am still floored that she would recall those little bits where our paths crossed and thought them worth writing about. 

Susan's fan letter to Ray

For the next few decades after that letter, I became her devoted follower and we delighted in every opportunity to sit and chat. Susan was one of the wittiest folks I’ve ever known, and being with her encouraged me to try my hand at matching her bon mot for bon mot. I rarely rose to her level, but the competition was always delicious.

Read the rest of Ray's tribute in full here and listen to Susan and Ray talk about Vincent Starrett on Episode 61, about which Ray writes, "I didn’t want the afternoon to end. I still don’t."

Al and Julie Rosenblatt were there for many aspects of Susan's life, including her marriage to Mickey.

Al Rosenblatt, BSI ("Inspector Bradstreet") and Julie Rosenblatt, BSI ("Mrs. Turner")

We gain our sense of completeness from everything around us, most importantly the people that have enriched our lives. Losing Susan diminishes us personally and in our circle, but we will always have, and keep, the memories she forged: her talent, her character, her fortitude, her boundless fidelity to her friends and causes (not least, the Sherlockian side of her life), her engaging sense of humor, and above all, her love.

Nowhere were these qualities on better display than at her wedding with Mickey. Officiating at the ceremony was among the truest privileges of my life. I cannot remember an event that produced more festive tears of joy  from all those assembled and  part of it. We have been to many weddings but this was by far the happiest. 

We have all shared years of great remembrances like these, with Susan, and we will cherish them forever.

Courtesy of Mickey Fromkin

The Rosenblatt connection to Susan spans two generations.

Betsy Rosenblatt, BSI ("Lucy Ferrier")

Susan Rice was one of the first adults who felt like a friend to me.  I never really “became” a Sherlockian—in a way, I just always was one, the product of growing up in a Sherlockian household.  But Susan’s inviting kindness and open enthusiasm made me a Sherlockian, rather than just the child of Sherlockians. 

At my first ASH dinner, I was 12 years old, and I imagine it would have been easy to treat me as an inconvenience. But Susan and the “rowdy table” embraced me. They taught me the songs. We sang them with gusto. 

Susan always—always, no matter what else was going on—was surrounded by a bubble of warmth and invited others to join her and be joyful in it. She loved you, exactly you, exactly as you are, with all of your offbeat passions. She wanted you to be yourself, as she was herself. Herself was elegant and radiant and compassionate and opinionated and loving and oh, so knowledgeable. 

Susan and Mickey have been a model of love and mutual support for as long as my memory goes.  They were, I think, the first adults I came out to.  For years, I have delayed making an “oral history” of my time in Sherlockiana because I wanted to find a time when I could do it with them, because my Sherlockian story is so intertwined with them. I love them. I miss Susan.

Mickey and Susan

Susan's decision to turn over the reins of the William Gillette Luncheon was a big one. 

Jenn Eaker, BSI ("Mary Sutherland") 

“I know I made the right choice.”

Susan used to always say those words to me when we were discussing the future of the William Gillette Luncheon and when she would finally step down. She’d say them again when she told me she had decided to pass the hosting torch to me at this year’s event. And she would repeat those words over and over when others came up to her to congratulate her on her tenure of hosting the luncheon coming to an end.

Those words are like a balm to me right now. Her belief in me as a successor, her encouragement as a Sherlockian, her support as a friend, made me feel like I could do anything. She was so sure of her decision. Of me. Of my abilities. As someone who suffers severely from imposter syndrome, her words helped me peel away the layers of self-doubt and embrace my talents. 

And it wasn’t just me she did that for. Susan did that for everyone who came into her orbit. It’s just who she was. A nervous first-time ASH Wednesday attendee would arrive unsure, and leave with new friends, the dates of the next scion meetings in your area, and a seat at the table anytime you were able to return. Susan facilitated that.

A new Sherlockian who was interested in writing a trifling monograph on a topic from the Canon would mention it to her in conversation. She would applaud the idea, ask questions to help you shape your thoughts, and then put you in touch with the right people to get it published in one of the many journals. Susan was your personal cheerleader. 

As a woman, I wouldn’t be a member of the BSI if it wasn’t for Susan and all of the hard work she and the other early Adventuresses did. Susan helped break down the door, and then after it was opened, made sure it never closed on the women and next generations of Sherlockians who followed her. I owe her so much. We owe her so much.

I have our final photo together framed and displayed on a mantel in my home. It’s a lovely picture Charles Prepolec took of Susan, Mickey and me in January 2020. It’s the end of the luncheon, and we three are smiling at the conclusion of another successful event. I look at it every time I pass it, remembering how happy she was that day. And relaxed. Because it was her final time hosting the luncheon. And she knew who was taking over those duties and she didn’t have to worry. I hear her laughter as she catches up with friends. I see her greet old friends she hasn’t seen in years. And for a moment, I can feel the warmth of her presence next to me.

There is a Susan-shaped hole in my heart. But her memory lives on. And her legacy will continue to impact all of us, and those yet to find our Sherlockian world.

Courtesy of Charles Prepolec

Susan had friends from all over, including a relatively quick train ride just south, in Philadelphia.

Janice Fisher, ASH ("A Violet-Tinted Pencil")

At the 2003 Birthday Weekend, I became The Woman of the Baker Street Irregulars. I had arranged to be toasted by my old friend Sherry Rose-Bond; I thought myself rather cunning in being the first Woman to be toasted by a BSI woman. Susan told Steven and me how much she enjoyed these performances and confided, 
"Long before I knew I could be a BSI, I had a fantasy of being named The Woman and seizing the microphone after the toast to give the BSI what-for. In my fantasy, I was so witty and charming in my invective that the fellas melted before me and changed their ways. Luckily, I was present to see Janice fulfill that fantasy, except of course that there were women in her audience because the BSI had actually managed to change their ways earlier."

I remember the famous 1991 Weekend cocktail party where Tom Stix had opened those BSI gates to the investiture of women. In my recollection, Evy Herzog levitated toward Tom as he announced her name, and Susan’s jaw actually fell open when she heard her own. (Sherry and I, in our exuberant post-game recap, were almost ejected from the train back to Philadelphia, but that’s another story.)

As a result of my exalted Womanly status, Susan almost immediately began to address me as The in her emails. “Greetings to The,” began one. “I could have typed Greetings to Thee, which would be pronounced the same and would have made me feel all Quakerly!” (She was of course giving my Philadelphia home a shout-out—but Susan never needed to shout.) Another email promoted me: “Greetings O Sovereign The.” An email to Steven and me addressed us as “Dear The and He.”

Steven (and I’m sure he’s not alone) has written of Susan’s delight in her friends and in knowing more about them. In an email, she told me, 
"I was surprised to hear of [Steven’s] comic collection, though something tells me I learned of this once before and then filed it in that bulging folder of miscellaneous interesting things that soon become obscured by the very thickness of the file. How many-parted we all are, and that's a sort of consolation when the world goes all awry. I can still look into friends and find something new."

I feel cheated of the opportunity to continue to learn new things about Susan. I'm so peeved—a truly childish word, but that's how I feel—that I won't be able to try match sass with her anymore. I've never met such a witty person who was also so unfailingly nice. It says more about me that I've always taken those to be incompatible traits. But not in the remarkable Susan. It was a privilege and a joy to be her friend.

Susan with Sherry Rose-Bond

And while we're in Philadelphia, we should hear from Janice Fisher's husband.

Steven Rothman, BSI ("The Valley of Fear")

I am not sure when Susan and I first had a real conversation. I certainly knew her by sight and reputation by the very early 1980s. I think it was at the bar at 24 Fifth before a BSI Dinner. (Had we both been drafted by Stix to help with set-up? I know I always felt his hand on my shoulder.) But when we spoke, it was immediately clear that here was a people person of the first order—a woman who loved to meet people and find out about them. Since my own philosophy is “everyone has a story,” we were able to chat happily. 

Janice and I would see Susan and Mickey in New York and when they would come to Philadelphia either to see Helen Gioulis, Mickey’s college roommate, or for a Sherlockian event. Once Susan came to my home just to spend some hours reading Christopher Morley’s letters to Vincent Starrett. We all had fun marveling at what it meant to be a Sherlockian and a literary man in the 1930s and ’40s. Susan enjoyed her time in my library but made it quite clear that she was not a collector. (She always insisted, even while sitting by her own bookcase filled with bee books, that she was not a collector.)

Talking with Susan was a delicious experience. She would give you all her attention, her bright eyes glistening with delight. And she would laugh, frequently. She was as happy to see you as you were to see her. I am sure there are people she disliked or who irked her. Susan was not a saint. But even those folks had something in them that she would find intriguing, if not beguiling. The disputatious nature of some Sherlockians frequently troubled her, but, when asked, Susan would offer up a compliment, since they, too, were her friends.

And yet Susan had a tongue that could be sharp. She traded gossip with a touch of acid, a gleam in her eye, and that smile on her face. Susan’s smile was at the heart of her very being. The way she would light up at the sight of her friends was a gift to them she could not stop giving.

Susan was a great Sherlockian. She was at least a triple threat: she knew her Canon, she loved her Sherlockian family, and she could write like nobody’s business. Susan was brimming with ideas about Sherlockiana, and she told them to the world in her distinctive voice. Susan was a great friend of The Baker Street Journal, and it was a joy to get an article from her. Not only did she write for the Journal, she made sure to let me know she read it, often copying me on notes to authors about articles that she particularly enjoyed. Humor, particularly subtle humor, gave her a special pleasure.

When I wanted a Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual devoted to The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes in 2004, Susan reluctantly but graciously took on the project, though she had not been there at ASH’s birth. It is not only a scionic history; it is also a cultural history. She was always happy to be asked to serve as one of my (heretofore) anonymous judges of the Morley–Montgomery Memorial Award for the best piece in that year’s BSJ. Indeed, for several years she broke precedent and asked me if she could be a judge, claiming it gave her the greatest of pleasures. And she was an excellent judge. Susan always gave long, reasoned responses for her choices, and there was no real arguing with her rankings. She also helped make the small cocktail party where the Award is announced a special occasion, mingling, laughing, and drinking with a wide smile throughout. 

One of my favorite memories was the day that Susan and Susan Dahlinger took the bus to Philadelphia to see an exhibition of comic books (with virtually no Sherlockian content) that I had curated. We spent the afternoon looking and chatting. Neither of them had ever really been readers of comics or comic strips, so I was very touched that they would schlep on the bus just to see my tatty comics (albeit in an academic setting). It was a lovely day, and I loved both Susans for arranging it.

Then there was the wonderful day when we went to Manhattan for Susan and Mickey’s wedding. Everyone in that crowded room at the Players’ Club was smiling broadly. The officiant, Judge Al Rosenblatt, smiled very broadly indeed. But the biggest smiles of all were on the two brides in their matching dresses and lovely floral wreaths. Everyone in the room felt thrilled to be able to witness the marriage of two people whose long engagement had finally been ended by a slow-witted New York State.

The best times with Susan were away from the Birthday Weekend crowd, where we could talk, eat, and laugh together. We would exchange our delight with the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess, the most out television show ever in its day. Janice and I would join Mickey, Susan, and our near-neighbor Helen for long, lovely, brunches. Even when she had to use a wheelchair, Susan would trek with Mickey’s tireless assistance to Philadelphia for the Copper Beeches. We discovered together that the Racquet Club’s idea of “wheelchair accessible” involved a very steep ramp from a darkened alley. Somehow, we were able to maneuver Susan and her chair safely, but no one was happy until we had made it to Locust Street.

I always said that Susan, with her delight with people and with life, was the youngest person in the room. I think I will forever hear Susan’s voice and see her smile. And I am the better for it.

Peter Blau bringing out Susan's smile at the Gillette Luncheon

One privately-submitted response indicated an important aspect to Susan's collecting habit: that despite her strenuous objections, she was indeed a collector. But unlike so many other Sherlockians who amass books, artwork or tchotchkes, Susan collected friends. And many of them were on the young side, from her aspiring students in Detroit to the more recent fandom. She was a mentor to all of them.

There's so much to process with these wonderful perspectives. 

While we could write a thoughtful reply or essay to each one, here's a through-line that's worth considering: Susan made everyone feel at home. Like they could be themselves.

We're not just talking about in Sherlockian ways; look again at the above. She made misfits feel as if we had a rightful place at the table. Nerds, LGBTQ+, noobs, comic book collectors, awkward types. Not only did she collect people, but she put them together and gave them a sense of belonging.

To make someone feel as if they belong is the ultimate act of love.

And Susan dispensed it liberally.

Farewell, Susan. The air of the Sherlockian world is forever sweeter for your presence.

Courtesy of Mickey Fromkin

Do you have a particular memory of Susan? Feel free to leave it in the comment section below.