Our office was busy, but particularly somber, last week – something I never thought I’d say about this crazy (in a good way) place I’ve worked for more than 11 years.

It was a print week, when our whole team works together to get the papers ready for the press.

This time, we were missing a key player. Our office manager, Susan Tarbona wasn’t there.

She had gone home early on a Friday in mid-December, thinking she had a bad case of bronchitis that wouldn’t go away.

But it wasn’t bronchitis. It was COVID-19. Very sadly, after battling the virus and its complications for a month, Susan died Jan. 23. Her only child, her beloved son Joe, was at her side.

Joe and his family had just recently moved to Brunswick, Ga., after years of living far away. Susan had been excited that they were moving closer.

As we have let folks know about her passing, we have heard some lovely comments about Susan. Some common themes were apparent: “She was my go-to.” “She was a great help.” “She always had an answer.”

Our VP of Advertising, B.J. Frazier, was the publisher of the papers when he hired Susan in 2012. “Susan was a diligent, professional, extremely productive and positive force in our office who was so much more than our office manager,” he said. “I will dearly miss my friend.”

Susan was my friend too. But we didn’t cozy up too quickly. She used to drive me nuts!

Someone recently mentioned how easily Susan connected with strangers who came to the office. I often heard her on the phone in the office, talking to an advertiser whom she had never met in person, asking about the family, or someone’s recent surgery, or new home, or vacation – whatever. The chatter used to make me crazy (because she was a loud talker), but it also reminded me of my dad, who was the same way.

We’ve learned that Susan had an extended network of friends, including some she talked about a lot (“my friends Pam and Sam and Ruth, whom I’ve known for 30 years”). I knew she had lots of friends, because every Friday, her cell phone would constantly “ding, ding, ding” with text messages. I found it annoying and must have mentioned it. “Oh, that’s just everybody saying ‘Happy Friday,’” she would chirp.

But it was the ring tone on her phone that drove me up the wall. Not content with soft piano notes or waves, Susan had chosen the lyrics to “All Summer Long”: “We were trying different things, and we were smoking funny things, making love out by the lake to our favorite song, Sipping whiskey out the bottle, not thinking ’bout tomorrow …”

While she usually answered by the word “smoking,” there were more than a few times it got all the way to the “whiskey.”

I reminded her once (and only once) that “You know, you COULD set that to vibrate.” She replied, “But I like that song.” The end.

I eventually lightened up and tried to get to know Susan. That was a good decision on my part. I learned she met those “old” friends when the three women worked together for AT&T. I realized she truly enjoyed her sister Marcia’s four-month annual visit to escape the winter in upstate New York. I knew she loved pro football and golf, and was a decent player (of golf, not football).

And I recently learned that Susan went to Woodstock! I am still shocked to learn that this person with whom I worked for more than 8 years – this very business-like, no-nonsense (at work, anyway), cultured individual – was a hippie! She had never mentioned Woodstock!!

But, that explains her ringtone, doesn’t it?

Rest easy, Susan. Your work here is done. Please go find my dad and tell him all about your Woodstock experience. He’ll get a kick out of that.