Courtesy / Robin Jerstad
When friends, family members, and acquaintances of Sue Duffy gathered in King William Park to remember her life, the affair was far from somber.
Instead, they dressed in their most colorful Fiesta garb Thursday night to remember the woman who was the King William Parade’s chief parade wrangler for 11 years. They assembled at the park gazebo to sing songs and share their favorite stories about the woman who touched so many lives before losing her fight with cancer on May 20.
The memorial culminated in a colorful mini-parade around the park, led by two musicians of the San Antonio pipe and drum corps, in Duffy’s honor.
“We’re doing something a little different, a little more festive,” said Ryan Orsinger, Duffy’s only son. Orsinger and the 50 or so attendees of the memorial celebration knew that was just how Duffy would have wanted it.
“She handled things differently. She wouldn’t have wanted a lot of drama” surrounding her passing, said District Court Judge Stephani Walsh, who was one of Duffy’s closest friends.
Duffy hid her illness up until her final days in the hospital, Walsh said, and even then, “she said, ‘No drama, no drama.'”
Thursday’s gathering was a celebration of Duffy’s life, and there was plenty of food, laughter, music, and stories to go around about her quirks and how she inspired so many in the community.
Rudi Harst, who worked with Duffy organizing the King William Parade, said she “lived a life of curiosity, loving, learning, and wonder.”
One of six children, Duffy was born in Massachusetts and later moved to San Antonio, where she went to Southwest High School. Before returning to the city, she backpacked through Europe in the 1960s, spending time at several communes in Ireland and Scotland. She was a “lifelong vegetarian and had a lifelong passion for learning and expanding her cultural horizons,” Harst said.
“She lived in several segments of society at once,” he said, as a gardner, book club member, parade organizer, and a social activist.
For more than 30 years, Duffy worked as a paralegal at a local law firm close to downtown, and after work hours she was highly involved in the community, most notably by putting in countless hours to organize the parade. She wasn’t big on technology and didn’t have a television. For the last 15 or so years of her life, Walsh said, Duffy chose not to have a car, happily relying on the city bus to get from her home on the Northside to all of her activities downtown.
A number of people at the memorial described Duffy as friendly, colorful, intelligent, committed, and selfless. King William Fair Manager Zett Baer, who worked with Duffy on the parade for years, lovingly described her as “a little wacky,” but said it was her creativity and dedication that made the popular Fiesta event consistently successful each year.
“She was so dedicated and did so much to bring the parade to where it is today,” she told the Rivard Report. Even while she was battling cancer during this year’s celebration, unbeknownst to those around her, “she pushed through it all and just put things in order and persevered.”
The memories each person shared about Duffy inspired tears and laughter. One of her co-workers, Teresa Blankenship, said that when another one of their colleagues was sick and in the hospital, Duffy sent her a card every day for 30 days. Blankenship later realized that Duffy was also sick during that same time.
“That’s our Sue,” she said. “… When I made the connection that she was sick the entire time she was sending cards to another person who was sick … it just was Sue.”
After the memories were shared and before the group grabbed noisemakers, colorful hats, and accessories to march in the mini-parade, Orsinger thanked the group for showing up to celebrate his mother’s life.
He was adorned in his Fiesta best: a magenta paper crown and blue King William Parade shirt with colorful paper lining the sleeves. The back of the shirt read, “The Gopher,” the monicker bestowed upon him during his years working with his mother at the parade for being the one to “go for this, and go for that,” he said.
He called the presence of Duffy’s diverse group of friends and family at the service “a treasure.”
“We all are made better by how we interacted with Sue,” Orsinger said. “All the friends, all the family. … This is beautiful.”
Walsh, too, noted that the turnout in Duffy’s honor was indicative of the large impact she had on people all over the community.
“What I’ve admired most about Sue is that she had different little pockets of friends that I would touch, but not know all of them,” Walsh said. “Sue had so many different pockets of friends and that was what really defined her.