First of all, I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support in the last days and weeks. I want to thank everyone for everything that you have written, contributed, and shared. It is incredibly moving to know that Susan has touched the lives of so many people, many of whom had never even met her.
I’m not really ready to write much of anything myself, but I thought that I would share a letter that was sent out from Susan’s office in Barcelona. They are an amazing, intelligent, passionate, and caring group of people, and Susan was lucky to share space with all of them.
Dear Open Society Friends,
We write to share with you the sad news that our colleague, Susan Treadwell, has passed away after having lived and worked with cancer for five years.
Susan has been an integral part of the Open Society Foundations since she first walked through the doors of our Budapest office in 2003. For a decade, her focus and her passion was human rights and transparency of governance in the Western Balkans and Southeastern Europe. In 2013, she moved with her family to Barcelona, where she became the deputy director of Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE).
Susan was a passionate activist for human rights. If you were lucky enough to work with her, you will know just what a loss this is, for us, her work colleagues; for her family, who she loved dearly; and for the activists who counted her as a comrade in their pursuit of justice. She was clear-eyed about the challenges and obstacles standing in the way of a fully just and fair world, and was tenacious in her work to overcome those challenges.
She was an ardent believer in transparency, and her cancer was no exception: in her candid sharing of her situation she opened an emotional space that has transformed all colleagues at the Barcelona office and in OSIFE, and how we relate to each other. If you want to learn more about Susan’s extraordinary fight with cancer from a personal perspective, her husband Matt wrote about it in a blog, which Susan and he hope will help others who may live through similar situations. The blog is an enduring testimony to Susan’s extraordinary character and vital attitude.
She used cancer as a metaphor for the work that must be done to combat financial systems run riot across the world. In a panel discussion, which took place in 2017, she said, “cancer, if you break it down to its essential element, is uncontrolled growth. It is cells that have gone haywire and refuse to die, and that growth taking over the organism.” Everyone, almost everywhere in the world, has been touched by cancer, she said. So too has everyone been impacted by the opaque complexity of the global financial markets, with far too many of our sisters and brothers bearing the brunt of financial systems run amok with little consequence. “I am inspired by all of you in this room,” she went on to say, “who I see are the antibodies in the system.”
Susan was tenacious. She has been advocating for the rights of people with disabilities since at least 2011. In 2019, she described her mantra as “nothing about us, without us,” and again emphasized the disability rights movement. While the common refrain is the need for a seat at the table, in the disability rights movement, “the table is wrong,” she said, “The world needs to change in order to provide real equality and justice to everyone.” Susan never stopped challenging herself and others around her. “Many of us are going through similar awakenings and decolonization of our own thinking” she said last year about racial injustice, “recognizing the biases that we hold, from the air and water that we have been steeped in and raised and breath – analyzing and thinking about that more critically.”
Susan was a dear friend, a formidable mentor and an irreplaceable colleague, and we will miss her dearly. We will strive to be those positive antibodies, planting, and growing, the seeds of positive change in her memory.
We send our condolences to her husband, Matt, and her two boys, Damien and Griffin.
With best wishes,
Jordi and Goran
Jordi Vaquer, Director, Global Foresight and Analysis / Director of the Barcelona Office
Goran Buldioski, Director, Open Society Initiative for Europe / Director of the Berlin Office