Suzie Coughlan ’77: Powered by Optimism, Life is Good

by Anne Patterson, Assistant Director of Development and Alumnae/i

If you are looking for inspiration, look no further than White Mountain alumna Suzie Coughlan ’77. A friend of Suzie’s recently shared the following, “This incredible, amazing optimistic, courageous powerhouse of a person has brought strength, light, and focus to so very many over the years.” We wanted to share her story with you.

Suzie enrolled at The White Mountain School in 1975. She grew up in Montreal but had visited the Bethlehem area many times with her family. Her late mother, Mary Newcomb Coughlan, who died in May 2020, graduated from St. Mary’s-in-the Mountains in 1949. After attending an Alumnae Reunion with her mother, Suzie fell in love with the School and transferred from a small private school in Montreal for her last few years of high school. At the time, as an international student from Canada and one of only a few from outside the United States, she was considered very unique! With her outgoing personality and positive attitude, she easily made many friends.

Suzie readily admits that one of her favorite things about White Mountain was that she got to ski every day. Another highlight was living in Hill House in the same room where her mother had lived. She couldn’t believe how lucky she was to be attending a school that encouraged outdoor activities in addition to a top academic program that prepared her for McGill University, where she studied after graduation. Following her graduation from McGill, she moved to Toronto, where she attended the Toronto Montessori Institute, a school for Montessori teachers. She went on to teach in Montessori schools in Canada and Massachusetts for over 28 years, retiring in 2011. An outdoor classroom is named in her honor at the Oak Hill School, a Montessori school in Littleton, Massachusetts. It was given by parents who wanted to recognize her excellence as a teacher.

In her few years at White Mountain, Suzie made close friends who are still part of her life today. In fact, friends from White Mountain, Camp Tanamakoon (the summer camp she attended for many years), and the Montessori schools where she taught are now part of a core group—in addition to her partner and other family members—that are helping Suzie. She suffers from inclusion body myositis (IBM), a rare, inflammatory, and degenerative musculoskeletal disease. Although IBM limits her mobility, it has not limited her positive outlook or her ability to try new activities. When she realized how much she missed skiing, her friends encouraged her to try adaptive skiing. Although reluctant at first, she was thrilled to be on the snow again with friends. She went on to try other adaptive activities, including soaring!

The accomplishment that makes her most proud is the group she formed in August 2018 that successfully achieved the summit during the Sunrise Ascent of Mount Washington. Her team, “Team Soo Soo,” raised more funds than any other for the Franconia-based Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country. As word has spread of Suzie’s team and news of her team’s accomplishment, support continues to spread. Suzie acknowledges Amy Bannon ’14, a former White Mountain teacher, for her encouragement and support. She also recognizes her partner, “Without Ronnie, I would not be managing this deteriorating disease the way I am. Our philosophy of life is ‘do more of what makes you happy.’ And we do! I am truly blessed.” One of their mottos is “Find something to smile about every day!”

Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

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