August 11, 1950 – June 4, 2022
Skip Thompson fondly remembers how he met Suzanne Rague. Their 30-plus-year friendship started through a mutual friend who attended Stanford University. “I told him (my friend from Stanford) that I was in Masters Swimming, and he said he knew a classmate in his economics class that was a swimmer competing in the (Masters) program,” says Thompson, a member of Michigan Masters. “One of the things he remembered about her was she was always getting the highest grades on the exams in class.”
Thompson made a point to see if he could locate Rague at the National Championship that year at Stanford. Because the meet welcomed 2,328 swimmers, he figured it was a slim chance that he would connect with her, but he tried nonetheless.
He noticed from the heat sheets she was swimming the 500 freestyle. When Rague was done, he introduced himself and told her he was excited to be there.
“She was very friendly, and I noticed she swam all of the tough events like the 200 fly, 400 IM and the mile, which she did at this meet and placed very well in all of them,” he says. “She talked about being on the Stanford campus and how it has changed in the last 15 years. Besides her swimming, she talked about being involved in music, and those were her passions.”
Thompson was among the many friends, competitors, and teammates who said goodbye to their dear friend when Rague passed away in June.
Thompson says his admiration for Rague included her performances at USMS meets, as well as the time she took to pass along her swimming knowledge through coaching. She also had an interest in the virtual championships and open water swimming, which he remembers discussing with her. “I was just getting started in 1985, and I asked her if she did 5K or 10K swims. I was stunned to find out that after one year of open water swimming, she attempted and successfully completed a 25-mile swim. She said she could not move her arms very well for a week. That pretty much sums up the determination she had in her life.”
During her long connection with Masters Swimming, she held numerous committee positions and received many awards and honors for her tireless work on behalf of a sport and organization she believed in and loved.
“I remember Suzanne as a kind, generous, loyal friend,” says Gail Dummer, a member of Michigan Masters. “I thoroughly enjoyed her company.”
Gail says Rague was interested in the people she met, and was always pleasant and gracious in her interactions. She and Rague traded light-hearted jibes about their respective alma maters, Stanford (Suzanne’s) and the University of California, Berkeley (Gail’s), but they always respected one another in and out of the water.
“Her accomplishments at Stanford were as noteworthy as those at USMS,” Dummer says. “I will miss Suzanne more than these words can express.”
Rague served on the Finance, Legislation, Long Distance, and Recognition and Awards Committees, was a member of the Board of Directors from 1990–1997, and was USMS’s controller for two years. In 1996, she received the Capt. Ransom J. Arthur M.D. Award, USMS’s most prestigious volunteer award, one given annually to the volunteer who most furthers the objectives of the organization.
While serving as USMS’s Auditor and Controller, Suzanne realized that USMS the organization could no longer operate optimally with manually maintained accounting records and financial statements. She commenced a three-year project, which included converting the auditing process to electronic, modifying the program to accommodate the Controller’s functions, and then adding an additional module to produce the USMS tax return. These were truly “behind the scenes” activities that would not be recognized by the average swimmer but would benefit all.
Rague also coedited the USMS newsletter WATERMARKS and the magazine SWIM with Tamalpais Aquatics Masters member Nancy Ridout, and served as the LMSC newsletter editor for the Metropolitan LMSC. She did all of this while working full-time as a controller for several small businesses.
Puget Sound Masters member Kathy Casey says she always knew that with Rague directing USMS’s finances, there were never any question that the organization was in good hands.
“My thoughts on USMS financial questions during her USMS terms [serving] were ‘Whatever Suzanne says,’” Casey says. “She never ever got ‘ruffled’ during any of her work. She was always kind and honest, and explained all the details so everyone could understand.”
Another memory Casey has of Rague involves her amazing compassion and caring. “After losing an election for a USMS office, Suzanne was the first to seek me out and console me, in a quiet, compassionate manner,” Casey says.
In the summer of 1993, Rague moved to Oregon from New York and started a new business, but remained involved with the sport. She joined the Oregon Masters Board of Directors right away. She volunteered to do data entry for meets, act as the LMSC auditor, chair the data entry/management committee for 1995 LC Nationals, and organize the 1995 One-Hour Postal swim.
Oregon Masters member Sandi Rousseau, who swam with Rague in Oregon, identifies Rague as having been a staunch supporter and contributor throughout her life no matter what she did, swimming, music, and even public broadcasting.
In the earlier years of Masters Swimming, she says, Rague was a sound voice that contributed to USMS entering into an organized, efficient, and balanced financial situation.
“Her knowledge and organizational skills really put USMS on a sound path forward,” Rousseau says. “After she moved from New York to Oregon, she immediately became involved in our Oregon LMSC board of directors and was a major contributor to our leadership.”
In addition to Suzanne’s efforts as Auditor and Controller, she served as USMS Treasurer from 1989-1993 and was USMS Secretary at the time she received the Ransom Arthur Award. She also co-edited SWIM Magazine for several years in the early 1990’s, and volunteered with the administration of the 1998 World Masters Games held in Oregon. Clearly, Suzanne’s service to USMS is exceptional and USMS has benefitted greatly from her membership and dedication.
Suzanne was very active in her LMSCs as well. She served as President, Treasurer, Top Ten & Sanctions, and Newsletter Editor for the Metropolitan LMSC. She created LMSC Bylaws for Metropolitan and Empire LMSC, recorded records, ran meets, coached a team and, not surprising – received the Empire Distinguished Service Award in 1992.
Suzanne Ragu continued to swim for fitness but had long ago dropped out of competition and USMS/OMS activities. Her passion over the past years has been her music — playing cello in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Cornerstone Trio (chamber music).
Tributes from her Orchestra peers.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) is deeply saddened by the loss of Suzanne Rague, cellist, philanthropist, champion of the arts, and beloved VSO family member. She will be greatly missed, and our hearts are with her loved ones at this time.
A message from VSO Conductor Maestro Salvador Brotons: “Suzanne will be a huge loss in our VSO cello section. I will always remember her passion for music, for advising me on new music repertoire, her faithfulness and commitment to the orchestra and as an incredible, well-rounded human being. Rest in peace.”
From one of her trio partners: “My friend and musical colleague, Suzanne Rague, died over the weekend after a short illness. Along with Dr Michael Liu, we formed The Cornerstone Trio, appropriately named as all (of us) are OPB Cornerstone Society members. We played numerous events for Friends of Chamber Music, at Terwilliger Plaza, where her mother lived, and other places. We had a lot of fun together. RIP Suzanne. You’ll be missed.”
(Her life was celebrated by a concert in The Old Church Concert Hall in Portland, OR, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Performances were by the Northwest Piano Trio, and Kevin Walsh, Baritone, and John Strege, Piano)