St. Helena Animal Advocate Susan Wren Dies at Age 72
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St. Helena Animal Advocate Susan Wren Dies at Age 72

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By David Stoneberg, editor@sthelenadstar.com
October 10, 2017
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Susan Taylor Wren, 72, life-long lover of all animals, but especially cats, died from complications of cancer on Sept. 27. For the past 25 years, she had been a volunteer and board member of St. Helena’s We Care Animal Rescue, a cage-free, no-kill sanctuary that currently has 229 cats and two dogs.

An informal gathering for people to share their memories, titled “A Farewell to Susan Wren,” will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. All are welcome.

Bill Wren said he and Susan met about 2002, lived together a year or two later and were married in 2008.

“We were married nine years, it would have been 10 on Valentine’s Day 2018,” he said. Although he had two sons from a previous marriage, Susan had no children and focused her love on animals.

“They were her children,” Wren said a week ago.

Most recently, Susan was president of the board of directors of We Care Animal Rescue, which was founded in 1982. Wren said, “For a while Susan was the acting general manager, because we were unable to find a real general manager/director person, to get in there and help us out.”

Susan was responsible for seeking donations and she was very thankful for the corkage donations from Farmstead/Long Meadow Ranch through the years, her husband said. She also was responsible for thanking the donors, usually with a hand-written note.

In December 2015, the St. Helena Star named Susan an “unsung hero” for her dedication to her beloved We Care. At that time, the rescue’s executive director had resigned and Wren was frantic, trying to get the Rescue’s Christmas cards that were also requests for donations in the mail. She estimated she was spending 30 hours a week volunteering for We Care, which she said was about 20 hours a week more than normal.

At that time, Rebecca Bell, a volunteer, and former board member, said Susan is “remarkable and so dedicated to We Care that she’s often at the shelter first thing in the morning and sometimes late at night. I’m in awe of the energy and love she puts into the care and well-being of all of the animals.”

When told it sounds like she has a full-time job, Susan responded: “That is one way of putting it, but unfortunately, what I think, is that it’s a full-time passion.”

In the St. Helena Star article, Susan told the story of how her passion for cats began. Many years ago, when she was a child of 3 or 4, she and her family lived in Melrose, Massachusetts. One Christmas Eve, her favorite aunt, Lilly McIntyre, showed up at the family home with a basket. “It was a gift for me and when I took the cover off it, it had a tiny, yellow kitten in it,” Susan said. “That was the first Christmas present that I remember.”

After growing up in the Boston area, Susan volunteered for the Democratic Party with her aunt’s help. Wren said Susan was good at what she did and she loved it so much that eventually, she worked for the Kennedy family.

Always an active volunteer

Wren said his wife was “a very well-rounded woman; a woman of many loves and people loved her back.”

Susan was always an active volunteer. When she lived in Mill Valley, she volunteered for Glide Memorial Church; was active with the Meals on Wheels group in Marin County; and started a business called Pets and Plants in the summer of 1982 with her friend Michelle Martin who, like Susan, was a flight attendant. She and Martin took care of plants and dogs and cats for those in southern Marin County. When they closed the business, after a couple of years, they had helped some 250 households, according to the San Francisco Business Journal, which wrote up the story in April 1983.

Susan moved from Mill Valley to the Napa Valley in 1990 and a few years later, she bought property on Spring Street from Harold Smith.

“She created that lot and built that home on her own, while she was flying around the world,” Wren said, explaining that Susan spent many years as a flight attendant. “Somehow she would get some group to do the framing, to do this and do that and she would come back to supervise. She acted as her own general contractor, Wren said, and worked with a local draftsman to create what he calls “a lovely home.”

A flight attendant

Teddy Kennedy was a college roommate of John V. Tunney, who was the youngest son of fighter Gene Tunney. Susan was sent to California to work for Tunney for his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1965. After a year, she got tired of politics and became a flight attendant, first for Pacific Air Lines, working on routes from Bakersfield to Yuba City, her husband said.

Later she worked for Northwest Airlines and had worked for Delta Airlines up until her death. Her home base was San Francisco and Susan loved the international flights, traveling to her favorite cities in the Far East, including Tokyo, Singapore and especially Bangkok.

Wren said he and Susan had many wonderful trips together.

“My favorite of all the places was Bermuda,” he said. “I had never been to Bermuda in my life and probably would never have gone but there was a crazy Delta route and we used to go all the time. We would go to Bermuda, go to Honolulu, go to Bangkok together.”

At her death, Susan had been a flight attendant for 51 years and out of some 20,000 Delta flight attendants, she was the most senior flight attendant based in San Francisco.

Susan loved being a flight attendant and loved the people she’d worked with for many years.

“They knew one another and they just loved each other,” Wren said. “Susan went to San Francisco, to meet her pals and have lunch” about once a month, he said. “That airline group is where her lifeblood is, her solid friends. They will put on a big celebration of her life, which will be a blowout,” Wren said.

Doctors first diagnosed Susan with cancer in November 2008 and after a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Wren said, “We thought we had beat” the cancer.

After Susan’s death, one of her friends, Martha Naber, wrote to Bill Wren: “I remember many things about Susan, her love of animals, especially cats, her lively conversations, generous and giving spirit and her love of a party. But what I will remember most is how you gave her the opportunity to be at home as she wanted, what good care you took of her and how you made her last days so comfortable and full of love.

“The last day we visited, Susan was so calm and peaceful. Sitting up in her bed looking out over her beautiful yard, able to see the deer, birds and all the animals she cared about. She reached over to you and held your hand on her shoulder. As you looked at each other I was so touched by the expression of love on both your faces. It was truly a beautiful moment and a lasting memory.”