Every action in our lives touches on some chord
that will vibrate in eternity.
Edwin Hubbell Chapin
Remembering Susan Phippen
Community leader, philanthropist, problem solver, team builder—Susan Phippen filled all of those roles, and more.
Susan grew up in a loving home with few luxuries … and when, as an adult, she had more advantages, she focused on the needs of others. In fact, Susan’s life exemplified writer Leo Rosten’s observation that, “The purpose of life is … to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.”
In 1989, Susan founded Scituate Community Christmas (SCC) after learning about a similar organization in neighboring Marshfield. The weakening economy and high unemployment rate at that time affected many families in town; after careful research, Susan discovered that there was, indeed, a need for community assistance during the holiday season.
She recruited a group of like-minded community activists and volunteers to serve as a hands-on board of directors—then the work of developing procedures, identifying and ensuring privacy for eligible families and individuals, and raising funds began.
“A lot of people didn’t believe that there were needy families in Scituate,” recalls founding director Nancy Murray Young. “But there were, and, every year, SCC makes a difference at the holidays for many of our neighbors and friends in town.”
After three years as chairman of the board, Susan served as executive director, without compensation, for the next 25 years.
Scituate Community Christmas was not Susan’s only legacy to Scituate. There is not a corner of our community that does not reflect Susan's contributions. Her drive, vision and humanity forever changed the fabric of our town in so many positive and lasting ways, and enriched countless lives.
A resident of Scituate since 1980, Susan got her first taste of town government participation as an appointee to the Conservation Commission. Over the next decade, she served on the Landfill Task Force, Commercial Zone Study Committee, Elections Committee, Animal Shelter Study Committee, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Advisory Committee.
Appointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Old Colony Restoration Project for the Greenbush Rail Line by Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand, she was instrumental in crafting a comprehensive mitigation plan for Scituate; later, she was the town's volunteer representative for the Greenbush Line for a year, an served as the appointed MBTA Ombudsman from 2003 to early 2006.
Her proven record as a consensus builder and dynamic leader bolstered Susan’s election to the board of selectmen for two terms (1996-2002); she served twice as its chairman.
Recognized for her unique ability to “get things done,” Susan continued to devote countless hours to the town following her tenure as a selectman. She served as the first chairman of the Community Preservation Committee and continued work on the Town's Local Historical Survey and Cemetery Preservation Plan. She also established the non-profit Scituate Visitors Center to restore the historic Works Progress Administration building in North Scituate. The building has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and renovation was completed in 2011.
A passionate animal lover, Susan had assisted the town's animal control officer by taking in stray dogs; at her urging, a study committee was appointed to develop goals and plans for sheltering animals. In 1987, her group led a movement to establish an animal shelter in Scituate. At the same time, she created a non-profit organization, Friends of Scituate Shelter, to begin fundraising for the building and the care of the animals. She served as a volunteer director of the shelter until a paid director was hired in 1994.
She was a cofounder of both POSH (Preservation of Scituate's Heritage) and SANDS (Scituate Alliance of Natural Disaster Services); a member of the South Shore Hospital Community Outreach Committee; a trustee of South Coastal Bank; and chairperson of fundraising efforts for both the Front Street Tree Project and the Seaside Fun Playground.
Susan’s unparalleled commitment to public, volunteer and charitable service brought her recognition and honors: the Scituate Chamber of Commerce named her its 1991 Citizen of the Year, and its 2002 Rose of Scituate; the Plymouth County Development Council honored her as a Local Hero in 1997, the same year she received the Children’s Empowerment Award; in 2008, she received the Unsung Heroine Award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women.
But Susan was never comfortable with the accolades. “She had her hand in many different things and worked very hard at everything she did,” said her friend and fellow activist Ann Burbine. “She was basically an unsung hero. It was never really about her, it was always about the town.”
Scituate Community Christmas continues Susan’s commitment to the town she loved and will carry on with her vision of helping others.