In loving memory of Susan Woldenberg Butler

My beloved wife Susan Starr Woldenberg Butler passed away, peacefully, surrounded by Buddhist prayer, on Saturday October 4, at midday in Canberra, ACT, Australia. In California, where most of her (Jewish) family still live, it was just at the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement. It was also the start of the Sabbath.

Susan was born in Layfayette, Louisiana, USA, on May 4, 1948. Her father, Newton Glassner Woldenberg, had only recently returned from the Pacific theatre of World War II, where he had served as a soldier in both Australia and New Guinea. Her mother, Irene, had moved with Newt to the US South from Madison, Wisconsin, soon after their marriage, to work for his uncle, the businessman and philanthropist, Malcolm Woldenberg. Uncle Mal lived in a grand house in Napoleon St, New Orleans, and Susan loved to visit.

Susan lived in two other Southern cities, Bogalusa (LA), and Vicksburg, on the Mississippi river, still haunted by a great siege from the American Civil War. One thing from that time that Susan remembered was a frightening visit from the Klu Klux Klan. Her father had invited one of his employees (an African American) to his home; “we know you are Jewish, and we don’t do that here”. Perhaps this was in Bogalusa, reported as having in the 1960s perhaps the highest per capita KKK membership in America. “Klansmen held offices in city government. They assaulted and terrorized blacks — and whites who didn’t share their bigotry.”

Susan also remembered a trip by train to Los Angeles, in the 1950s, and the love and care her mother had shown in protecting her from exposure to polio, then a greatly feared epidemic affecting children.

(much to be added)

Susan and I met during Diwali (the Hindu festival that signifies the triumph of light over darkness) at a Buddhist guest house in the New Delhi suburb of Shanti Niketan (abode of peace), in October, 1985. By that time, Susan was working in Hollywood, for a TV station. She was on pilgrimage with fellow students of Geshe Gyeltsen, who had founded a Buddhist centre in Los Angeles. Geshla was to marry us in 1991.

I remember the fortnight in which I met her as if it was last month. I had a half hour meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (at his meeting room in Dharamsala) only 2-3 days before I met Susan. Although I had attended teachings from His Holiness in 1982 when he first came to Australia, and again (for ten days) in 1985, when he gave the first Kalachakra teachings in Europe, this was my first ever face to face meeting with him. He was so generous with his time.

Later, Susan and I were to meet him twice, once in Los Angeles (just shaking hands) but also for about 30 minutes, again in Dharamsala, in 1990 (maybe October). The year before, he had become BODHI’s founding patron; we had asked him in late 1989, just before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became so very much in demand.

Susan is survived by her younger sisters, Jill and Anne, her mother Irene, a large extended family, and the author. Her father, Newt, who was a member of Mensa, died before I met Susan, in the late 1970s.

Susan was a talented author and editor. She had two books published in the UK, called Secrets of the Black Bag and Black Bag Moon. She was to sign the contract for a third, Black Bag Fix, but this was thwarted by her death. I am now in the early stage of negotiation with both this publisher and also the Royal College of General Practitioners, who published Susan’s first book.

When Susan second book was launched her stories were likened to that of the great A.J Cronin. whose writings (incuding Country Doctor) formed the raw material for the TV series Dr Finlay’s casebook. This was broadcast on the BBC from 1962 until 1971.

Susan also has two unpublished manuscripts. One, Just Add Nauseum, is a murder mystery set in Tasmania. The other is The Aftback Chronicles, the secret lives of stuffed animals. A leading character in this is the distinguished dyko-analyst, Sir Bligmund the black dog, whose patients range from the neurotic sniffer beagle at the airport to Rin Tin Tin. But even Sir Blggie pales in comparison to the real star, Sturgess Ursule, entreprenuer extraordinary.

Susan did a lot of editing. She was an active member of the Canberra Society of editors, who published a tribute in their October-November 2014 newsletter. Many of my articles, not to mention my powerpoint slldes, were improved, the latter especially visually, by Susan’s input. Susan also self-published four booklets, two of them cookbooks from the heart of Tasmania. These can still be purchased at the Tasmanian Wool Centre, in Ross, the historic village in the heart of Tasmania, near to where we lived from 1992 to 2008.

Susan was also a trustee of the Clifford Craig Research Trust, following a visit to Campbell Town by Dr John Morris, in 1992.

To be continued..

Professor Colin D Butler

University of Canberra and co-founder of BODHI


11 thoughts on “In loving memory of Susan Woldenberg Butler”

  1. Susan was one of the warmest and most generous persons I know. She was great company and truly committed to making the world a better place. Losing Tony and then Susan within two weeks is hard to bear.


  2. Susan was a great mentor throughout. Because of her, I was able to express better in my writing . She gave me the strength to work effortlessly without fear in a politically conflicted region. The project on peace building programmes in Changlang district in arunachal has brought us closer, not only professionally but on a personal level. I found a great friend in her and my only regret is that we could not have that cup of tea we so much discussed about. Susan will always be in my heart and my chantings. I hope she is happy wherever she is and we will surely meet in another life.
    Metta and love


  3. Susan was the first of Mimi and Bopa’s ten grandchildren. She was the most unconventional, the most counter-cultural. Stowing away on a Navy ship, practicing Buddhism, marrying a 6th generation Aussie and moving to Tasmania, a talented working writer, always giving. Susan is the exemplar of living fearlessly and benevolently.


  4. I first met Susan in 2009 at the launch of a journal. She was talking about Colin, Tasmania and BODHI. I was greatly impressed with her kindness and passion to improve living conditions of children in poor communities.

    I met her next at BODHI AGM and was amazed by the work Colin and she did. Her empathy and understanding of the cultures were outstanding. Susan worked tirelessly for BODHI. She had a deeper understanding on different cultures and people in varied settings and touched them all with her kind ways.

    She was a delightful and a caring friend. She made delicious dishes and enjoyed experimenting new recipes. Her spontaneous emails were beautifully crafted and I loved reading them. I was touched by her kindness when my father passed away.

    Susan was brave, generous, kind and most of all, an embodiment of goodness.


  5. Susan was my loving big sister. She taught me kindness, unconditional love and acceptance and lived those qualities throughout her life. No one knew how to truly exist in the moment like Susan. I loved her annual visits to Los Angeles, such good family time just hanging out with a cup of coffee or, in her case, tea, shopping, cooking.
    She took her big sister role seriously and did her best to stay connected to her little sisters and nephews, always there.
    Susan was so compassionate, caring and perceptive, the kind of person you could talk to about anything. She handled her life and illness with strength and grace. I will miss her and love her everyday for the rest of my life.


  6. The news of Susan’s illness filled me and Amy both with sadness. Six minutes have passed since I wrote that sentence; such is the struggle for words that are adequate.

    Susan’s gift of loving was not unnoticed and it is a great pleasure for me that our young Thomas and Charlotte were able to meet her, albeit briefly, when we visited Canberra in 2013. For them – and us – to behold such warmth and kindness in another human being is I believe one of the greatest gifts that they ever received.

    Her passing is at once sad and welcome. The idea that Susan would suffer yet is incomprehensible. The knowledge that she is no longer in the world is equally incomprehensible.

    While Susan has never actually been in my kitchen, I can see her clearly now. Sitting upon one of our rickety old chairs, enjoying a pot of tea and as equally home in silence as in conversation. Her presence offers an unusual warmth, a solace for those who join her.

    Our deepest of sympathies for Colin, whom she wholly adored.


  7. Susan was a rare creature, a truly good person and a positive force in the world with a sharp mind animated by humour.
    We talked books, mostly, swapping titles and then the books themselves, exchanging the secret pleasures of style, bravery in expression and examples of virtuoso literary feats. Over time, the professional connection matured into friendship as we dredged up memories, and confided more personal stories of family, the odd wild youthful tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, politics and religion. We bonded over an allergy to racism, and we laughed together about pretention and snobbery.
    We lived in different places and so met rarely. Writing was the unifying thread, the animation of our connection. Our shared love of words was the path to friendship and insight.
    I’ll miss our emails, our phone calls and our occasional meetings. I’ll miss you, Susan.
    Namaste. Shalom. Peace.


  8. Susan’s true and caring spirit was apparent to me the very first time I met her. What she achieved in her all too short lifetime is both humbling and inspiring. Her passing is a profound loss to those who knew her, those she has helped and to those she would have helped had she been allowed to be with us longer.

    Susan, my sorrow for your passing is surpassed only by my gratefulness for having known you. You left far more than you took. You inspire me to do better. Your energy is strong, I feel it still.


  9. I am honored to have been friends with Susan for 30 years and Colin for 23 years. Few people work at the Bodhisattva mission the way Susan has…consistently, without taking themselves too seriously, without giving up…and staying grounded, funny, and playful. She was a remarkable woman. We were at each others weddings. I was so happy for her when she and Colin got together. She inspires me. I miss her along with the rest of you .
    Marty Rubin


  10. Over many years I met Susan several times in connection with BODHI. I well remember my first meeting with Susan at Campbell Town. She had made her first trifle which we enjoyed for afternoon tea. Perhaps this was a hint of her culinary interest which led to ‘Midlands Morsels’. At that time Susan was planning ‘Secrets of the Black Bag’ which she described as ” a sort of ‘All Creatures Great and Small'”. Later, I enjoyed reading the well-crafted and very readable ‘Secrets of the Black Bag’. What I remember most of all is Susan’s tireless and enthusiastic dedication to BODHI.
    A sad loss.
    Much sympathy to Colin.


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