Susan Swartz, longtime Press Democrat reporter, columnist, dies at 76
Susan Swartz, an endlessly intrigued, courageous and entertaining writer whose work enlivened The Press Democrat for 35 years and, for much of that time, newspapers across America, died Tuesday.
The Sebastopol resident, who charmed and touched the hearts of a large crowd at the memorial service for her husband six weeks ago, stepped from a cliff at Bodega Head in an apparent suicide. She was 76.
For decades, she and fellow journalist Bob Klose were bright stars at the newspaper and in myriad Sonoma County arts, political, charitable and other circles. The pair of adventurous, vibrant souls had been married for 39 years when Klose died from complications of cancer Nov. 21.
Swartz was brilliant, funny and frank as she headed up the Jan. 11 program to celebrate Klose’s life. But she was suffering.
“For a little under a year, she struggled with a major depression,” said one of her three daughters, Jenni Klose of Santa Rosa. “Combined with the loss of her husband, my dad, there was just a level of sadness she could no longer bear.”
Until the death of the love of her life, Swartz lived fully and with great ardor, curiosity and compassion, said daughter Samantha Swartz of Petaluma.
After Klose died, she said, her mom “just felt his loss so deeply, and it was so frightening and devastating to her.”
Susan Swartz discovered her passion for newspapering in a high school journalism class in Meadville, Pennsylvania. While writing a Press Democrat column that displayed her devout feminism and the vast range of her interests and talent, she authored, in 2000, her first of three books, “Juicy Tomatoes,” focused on the true stories of a group of women 50 and older.
Just last year she debuted a novel, “Laughing in the Dark.” In an interview, she said it was based loosely “on late-night discussions I’ve had through the years with friends over the scary and the silly.
“The book started to take form when our party time got interrupted by a new darkness, the kind that creeps in when you start to worry about dying and getting sick and losing people and what happens if your brain turns to oatmeal.”
Throughout most of her life, Swartz exhibited a voracious appetite for discovery, conversation, personal stories and new experiences.
In 1975, she took a one-year leave of absence from the PD to paddle the Missouri River with daughter Samantha and her first husband, Bill Swartz.
When Susan Swartz married PD colleague Klose, a divorced father of two, she took on his two daughters as her own.
“She was our strong matriarch,” said Greta Klosevitz of Santa Rosa, mother of two of Swartz and Klose’s three grandchildren. “She wanted us all to be involved and to contribute.
“She was an example of how to love and how to take care of each other, and how to find the joy and beauty in life.”
Klosevitz’s sister, Jenni Klose, recalls their adoptive mother would “sing and dance in the house to ‘I Am Woman’ for a pick-me-up.”
Swartz traveled, practiced yoga, hosted a radio program on Sonoma County’s listener-supported KRCB, wrote plays and scripts and performed improv. She seized every opportunity to be on the beach near Bodega Bay or in Massachusetts. She loved the snow.
“She was interested in popular fiction, literature, news, music, fashion - everything,” Samantha Swartz said.
Recalled close friend Miriam Silver of Sebastopol, who worked with Swartz at The Press Democrat before becoming a teacher, “Susan was always the person ready for a new adventure, whether that meant a news story, meeting new people, exploring a new city or country, a book, a museum, the opera.”
Said another longtime friend and fellow journalist and activist, Occidental’s Sara Peyton, “I’m trying to think: Is there anything Susan didn’t do?”
The former Susan Frey studied journalism at Ohio University. She would recall, “I went from the Erie Times News to the San Diego Evening Tribune, where I was hired the same day I applied because a reporter in the women’s section had just put in for maternity leave. Years later, I would land a job at The Press Democrat as quickly, taking over for another pregnant reporter.”
She was assigned at the start of her career to cover what she said were perceived as “womanly things”: Society, fashion, food.
She recalled in a Press Democrat column upon her quasi-retirement in 2008 that early on “women reporters didn’t cover courts or cops or politics ... I was in my 20s and flying to New York twice a year for fashion week to write about hemlines and whether belts would be wide or skinny next season.
She added, “Eventually I got to write about serious things ... my timing was perfect to report on the women’s movement as we became judges, construction workers and rock stars.”