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Sue Newton Small

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Sue Newton Small Obituary

Sue Newton Small Naples, FL

My mother, Sue Newton-Small, was born Sok Chun ("Spring Flower") Tang in Hong Kong on December 13, 1938, a Sagittarius under the Zodiac calendar, a Tiger in the Chinese wheel. I have always thought of her as a tiger (thank you Any Chuan for educating the world about Tiger mothers), though she would've made a formidable centaur. She was one of five, the eldest girl. The Japanese caught up with her family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as they fled south during the war. My mother was raised there as her father, Ignatius Sze-Wing Tang rose from a rubber trader to a real estate tycoon. His wife, Magdalene, became a well-known socialite and the power couple often left the kids in the care of a myriad of servants as they joined the rising Chinese upper class in the British colony then known as Malaya.

My grandfather died just before her final exams in law at St. Anne's College at Oxford. She was sent to Lady Margaret's boarding school in Cambridge as a pre-teen and spent much of her childhood after the war in England. Despite his tragic death - my mother was a daddy's girl - she still made dux, or top, of her class. She practiced law in London for a short while before returning to Malaysia to spend some time with her family. After an ethnic-Chinese politician was elected prime minister in 1967 the enraged indigenous bumiputras rioted and my mother fled to New York where she got her Juris Doctor at Columbia and joined the United Nations.

On my mother's first field assignment as an international lawyer to Lusaka, Zambia, she reported to a young Australian economist named Graham Newton-Small who offered her show the office. He then offered her a tour of town that turned into dinner. A few months later he took advantage of a sudden monsoon downpour during a safari to propose in their jeep. They were married nearly 40 years.

My mother was a woman of deep convictions. She believed she was making the world a better place and so threw herself into the UN. She trooped through the frustrating bureaucracy, like when the Bulgarian blue helmet troops assigned to her in Cambodia, where she oversaw the elections in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, didn't bring a translator with them. Every day my mother demanded they meet an hour early so she could give instructions to one of her young staffers who translated them into his rusty German who told them to a young Bulgarian lieutenant who also spoke rudimentary German who relayed them to his commander. And she gritted her teeth but pulled through when her No. 2 at the United National Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva, a Palestinian man, refused to look at her, touch her or take direction from her always going over her head to her Syrian boss. Her boss, to his credit, always sent the Palestinian back.

It was partly these kinds of experiences that made her such a tough bird - a firecracker, as some in the older generation night say. She was tough on every one - never shy to remark on an un-tucked shirt, a dirty driveway or an unfortunate hairstyle. Her manner could be off putting. But she drew to her those with intelligence, grit and a sharp sense of humor. She was a brilliant woman who, despite the challenges of her sex and race rose to become one of the highestranked professional women in the history of the UN at that time. Later in life, she wrote books and traveled the world lecturing. She was a fierce advocate if she liked you and a formidable enemy if you crossed her. She is the voice in my head. In the days since her death last Saturday I have heard her countless times, urging me to make the right choices, treat myself and others with respect and scoffing at bureaucracy that death involves.

My mother became an American citizen nearly a decade ago. She believed America is the greatest country in the world. As I was beginning my career as a political reporter, she was discovering her passion for Republican fundraising. She helped more than a dozen candidates over the years. She was never prouder of me than when I was covering George W. Bush's White House and never more disappointed than when I was assigned to Barack Obama's campaign. Her mark on the GOP is as much her legacy as the democracies she worked to install abroad with the UN.

She was a gregarious person, who loved to entertain whether it be a fundraiser, church friends or fellow Rotarians. The night she died, she was in her element, hosting a dinner party for 14 when the massive aneurysm hit. She felt no pain and had time for no fear. She died in the arms of her friends. In death she gave the gift of life to three others through organ donations and helped another 300 people in need with her tissue and bones.

She is survived by her husband, Graham NewtonSmall; and her daughter, Jay Newton-Small (myself).

We will celebrate my mother's life at a memorial service next Friday, March 25, 2011 at Naples United Church of Christ at 5200 Crayton Road. The service will start at 1:30pm followed by a reception at the Moorings Country Club at 2500 Crayton Road.

In lieu of flowers, we ask that donations be given to Rotary Club of Naples (The Wednesday Noon Group) in the name of Sue Newton-Small. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. For condolences visit

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Published in Naples Daily News on Mar. 20, 2011
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