Our Mutual Friend At Work

Monday - 7/11/2011, 4:00am EDT

Most people, no matter how good they are and how important their jobs, work pretty much behind the scenes. And sometimes, literally, in the dark. Like Suzanne Kubota, my pal, partner in crime and editor who died suddenly July 2.

Suzanne worked mostly off the grid and - with a nearly 200 mile roundtrip commute from Pennsylvania - came in when it was dark. To handle our website, do a million chores, write her very popular NUF feature, and edit this column which she likened to "herding cats, except more-so."

She, of course, was kidding!

Dozens of us here at Federal News Radio and WTOP Radio claim to have loved her most. And to have been her favorite.

I humor them all. Because I know the real truth!

Enough said.

Suzanne was as smart as they come, funny, irreverent, compassionate and - in this age of super-sensitivity - didn't have a politically correct bone in her body. Every day, no matter how serious things were, was comedy central.

She and I would do lunch about once a week, talking about a variety of things: work, the cultural impact of the Protestant Reformation, the career of movie star Helen Mirren, pending legislation, why Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish, the quality of Burt Reynolds' hairpiece, and how World War I set the stage for World War II. Stuff like that. If she didn't know it, she wanted to know it.

She was a World War II expert, in part because her father had helped train members of the 442nd Regimental Combat team (I believe the most decorated unit in the Army) composed of Japanese-Americans. One team member, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) lost an arm in Italy.

When Suz joined the brand-new Federal News Radio operation, she thought FERS was something you wore and the TSP was what you kept in the bathroom. But she learned very, very fast. She could (and often did) spot a federal angle to a story a mile away. And pass it on to me or others on the staff - making us look good, which is what she liked.

She kept a square cardboard box on her desk. She said it was her retirement fund. Staffers contributed to it (she specified pennies) whenever they had to borrow her electronic entry card for the building. It had swollen to $1.99 at the time of her death.

Like a lot of people in the media biz - even those with recognized bylines, booming radio voices or great hair - Suzanne was basically very shy. She liked working in the background, making other people write and sound better than they would have without her. She liked making this column better (which she often did) even though I always got the credit.

She did have one vanity spot. Her Nearly Useless Factoid feature which appeared regularly in this space. It often got more comments and/or fan mail than the column itself.

On those rare occasions when somebody complained that the NUF wasn't funny, educational, accurate, or was offensive, she would be visibly hurt. And send them a lengthy note of explanation and/or apology. Then, under her breath, she would cast an evil curse using terms your mother would not sanction.

Suzanne genuinely liked feds and retirees, and especially military people. And it showed. Along the way, she picked up a lot of fans and email buddies which, after getting paid, is the most rewarding aspect of this job.

Although she died over the holiday weekend, lots of people got word anyhow and sent us notes which I think should be part of this column. The problem:

I know that Suzanne, in her most stern School Marm voice would say "Mr. Causey, (she called me Mr. only in moments of major tension or high drama) these letters will make the column much, much longer than usual. It is your call of course. I just wanted you to be aware of that."

Normally I would cave. Grovel like a dog. Slink away like a rat. I would heed her warning and either edit or drop the letters.

But not this time. Sorry Suz, but I bet you $1.98 that you grin when you read them:

  • "Mike, I was shocked and so sorry to read about Suzanne's passing. I never met her personally but I cherish the emails we exchanged over the last several years. It always impressed me that she took the time to connect with me. I know your column will survive, but somehow it won't be the same! Still.....Keep Up The Good Work!" - Mike In Houston