SUSSER--Phyllis L. (August, 24, 1938 - September 30, 2013) The Board of Directors and Staff of Birch Family Services, Inc. are saddened by the passing of our Founding Director, Phyllis L. Susser. Phyllis was a visionary, a pioneer, and a leader for social change for the disenfranchised, using her considerable intelligence and energy to advocate for those with severe developmental disabilities and social and behavioral challenges, helping them to live their lives as fully and independently as possible. Inspired by her teacher and mentor, Herbert G. Birch, M.D., she began the Herbert G. Birch School for Exceptional Children in 1975 with 28 students and 11 staff members, and she built that program into an agency that now operates educational, residential, adult day and other programs in 23 different sites throughout New York City, serving more than 1,300 people annually. (Our flagship school was re-named the Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children in April 2006.) Phyllis also was never afraid to serve the socially ostracized. Even when it was not widely accepted, Phyllis opened the doors of Birch's early childhood centers and residences to infants, toddlers and preschoolers affected by HIV/AIDS. She established one of the first camp programs for families living with HIV, staffed almost entirely by volunteers. She was relentless and selfless in her pursuits, and always persevered until she successfully accomplished her mission. No one worked harder or cared more deeply about the people she served. Without Phyllis's inspiration, vision, and determination, Birch Family Services, Inc. would not exist. The Board and Staff honor her memory and pledge to keep her legacy alive. We extend our deepest condolences to her daughter, Kim Susser and her husband, Jordan Cohen, grandsons Charlie and Ethan Cohen, her sister, Sherry Katz, nephew, Andrew Stern, and her family. She will be dearly missed. Robin E. Keller, Esq. Chairman Gerald F. Maurer, Ph.D., President, CEO
Published in New York Times on Oct. 2, 2013.