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Christopher Anne Suczek

Obituary
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Dr. Christopher Anne Suczek, an expert in sedimentary petrology and tectonics who helped blaze a trail for women achieving doctorates in geology, has died. Dr. Suczek, who earned her Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University in 1977, was a professor emeritus at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where she taught for nearly 40 years. Dr. Suczek, 71, died April 10 at her Bellingham home. She had been ill for more than a year with pancreatic cancer. She was promoted to professor emeritus only weeks before she died, and was celebrated at a retirement party where colleagues and former students spoke of her as a rigorous, demanding and inspirational teacher who was a mainstay of the department and the university as a whole. "I was able to get where I am now because people like Chris paved the way first," said Associate Professor Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, who recalled stories Dr. Suczek had shared about the early days of being a woman in science. "Chris and her peers are the reason that many of us women are able to do the work we are doing today, and I will always be grateful to her." Dr. Suczek's most recent research was on the tectonostratigraphy of the Crescent Terrane on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and a study of Holocene aggradational processes and rates for three alluvial fans in the Cascade foothills, Washington. She taught courses in physical and historical geology, stratigraphy, sedimentation, and sedimentary petrology, and she chaired the thesis committee of 24 master's students. Dr. Suczek, a tall, strong woman with unflagging energy, also led students for six weeks on rigorous geology field camps in Montana and Idaho. "Chris could generally outhike almost all of her students," said Dr. Pete Stelling, an assistant professor in geology. "I found out what a truly hearty person Chris was while tagging along with her field camp.  I would have put her up against the toughest survivalist types, and she would have trounced them with ability, professionalism, intellect and humility.  I feel very, very fortunate to have known her." In addition to her achievements in science, Dr. Suczek was also held in high esteem for her directness and integrity. The question, "What would Chris Suczek do?" said Dr. Caplan-Auerbach, "is something that is going to guide me the rest of my days. I have more respect for that woman than almost anyone I have known." "I've known Chris pretty much since she set foot on this campus," said Dr. George Mariz, director of the honors program at Western Washington University. "The first conversation we ever had made it clear that this was someone who was direct and honest, and you could trust everything she ever said to you. I've never known somebody with less guile than Chris Suczek, and I can't tell you how admirable that quality is." A woman with a radiant smile and a contagious laugh, Dr. Suczek was thoughtful, precise and deeply engaged in everything she did. For the last four decades she lived alone, but traveled widely and corresponded faithfully with her close circle of life-long friends. She loved global travel, art, the American Southwest, Kachina dolls, the novels of Tony Hillerman, bright colors (especially orange), cooking, gardening, orchids, cats, and reading. (And she pretty much loathed anything having to do with computers.) She was devoted to her son, Patrick, and her beloved granddaughter, Margaret. Dr. Suczek was born on Sept. 6, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Robert F. and Barbara Haining Suczek. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when she was about five, and grew up in Berkeley and Lafayette, Calif. She entered the University of California, Berkeley with honors at entrance in 1960, but (as she told the story) flunked out, married Richard J. Scheible (they later divorced) and had a son, Patrick Muir Scheible. Eventually, she said, she missed school and was able to convince UC Berkeley to re-admit her, and she earned a BA in Anthropology in December 1972. She earned a Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University in 1977, working with dissertation director William R. Dickinson. She is survived by her son, Patrick Muir Scheible; granddaughter, Margaret Scheible; and brothers Peter, Thomas and William Suczek. A memorial celebration is being planned for May 10 in Bellingham. For more information and to send condolences, contact Patrick Scheible at 7506 44th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98115; email: kkt@zipcon.com; phone: 206-523-8640.

Published in Bellingham Herald on Apr. 27, 2014
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