Remembering Susan Howard Boice

by Beverly Perna

Sue Boice died on July 16, 2013, but word got around town slowly that she had passed. I didn’t know until August 24th when a friend called and asked me to go to a Native American memorial for Sue, hosted that morning at Wolf Hollow by her longtime friend Joni Soffron.

I regretted that I was unable to attend. I really liked Sue. She was “real people.” You may not have always liked what she had to say, but you could never doubt her passion, sincerity or sense of purpose.

Susan Boice Howard was always ahead of the curve in Ipswich activities and politics.

She advocated for transparency in town government long before the term came into vogue. Known as a community activist, Sue was outspoken and provocative at many meetings in town. She was firm, persistent, but always respectful.

Former Selectman Jim Engel recalled Sue in front of the board for much of his 15 year tenure. “I was impressed with Sue’s dedication to the notion of getting out to the public what the Board of Selectmen were doing,” he said, adding that while at times it may have been annoying, he felt it was a service to the town.

Engel remembered the appearance of Sue’s video-camera at the meetings when she began taping the Board of Selectmen meetings from 1999-2003. She had her own cable tv show called “Eye on Ipswich” from 1997-99.

Engel and his wife Jeanne attended Sue’s memorial service, describing it as very moving.

The current Board of Selectmen nominated her as a 2010 Unsung Heroine of Massachusetts.

Selectman Pat McNally said of her then, “She is very kind and very passionate. She would get upset about things that needed to be righted, and she was usually right.”

McNally had become a close friend of Sue’s in recent years.
“Sue Boice Howard had an enormous impact on Ipswich—Sue was ‘green’ before the ‘green movement,’ and had the belief and foresight that we are just passing through Ipswich.  Sue’s philosophy was that we must preserve what we love about Ipswich for future generations to enjoy.  Sue’s impact can be physically seen when we look at Ipswich’s conserved open spaces and the clean Ipswich River,” he said.

Her home reflected her many diverse interests—history, in the many artifacts displayed; nature, in the rocks and minerals and myriad of plants, and her “children,” her parrots.

She was an accomplished artist and displayed dozens of her own and her father’s oil paintings.  Her paintings were of Ipswich scenes—the town wharf, the old South Church, sea scenes.  She was known for her paintings of animals and had done portraits of many local pets. She also painted Native American subjects.

Her love of Native American history and activities was one she shared with the late Will Maker, and together they saw to the dedication of a boulder emblazoned with a plaque commemorating the presence of Native Americans in Ipswich that rests near the Town Hall.

Despite a series of strokes, Soffron said Sue refused to give in to declining health and kept up with her interests. “She loved this town dearly, and I don’t know anyone who had as big a passion for its history as she did,” she said.

Town history buffs may have in their libraries some of Sue’s six volumes of “Historic Ipswich” which are collections of old photos of the town with brief historical backgrounds of each.

Her historic photos were a regular feature in the Chronicle for many years.

Sue was instrumental in seeing through the creation of Sawmill Park on County Street, preserved as a park in 2005 with a generous gift from Alice Shurcliff.  She doggedly pursued the creation of the park and saved it from development, always reminding the Selectmen about Shurcliff’s intentions for the space. It is now a delightful “pocket park,” where strollers can rest a few moments and view the cove.

In recent years, Sue became active with the local Agawam Gathering Committee. She always had an interest in Native American culture, but after her stroke, she found particular comfort in Native American views of life.

Soffron said Sue’s memorial service was conducted by John “Sly Fox” Oakley and Hobon Sanford of the Wampanoag tribe. Those who attended were purified with smudging then entered a sacred circle where Sue was honored with prayer and song. Afterwards, they caravanned to Sagamore Hill in Hamilton to the grave of Masconomet, Sagamore of the Agawam tribe, where, at her request, some of her ashes were scattered. Her remaining ashes were interred in her parent’s grave at Highland Cemetery.

Sue said she’d found peace with Native American teachings and had no fears.  She said she knew that when she was ready to go, the owl would alert the eagle who would escort her on her journey to the Creator. “The natives shall bury my remains in Highland Cemetery where I shall watch over my beloved Town of Ipswich.”

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