October 10, 2011

Suzanne Mahler

(A 2017 update:  I had the pleasure to hear Susan speak in March at the Medfield Garden Club.  She is as terrific a speaker as ever.)

When I am not the Principal Undergardener, I have another life that occasionally requires that I hire people to speak about horticulture.  I take that responsibility seriously.  I demand that the people I hire have three qualities: that they know their subjects very well, that they have enthusiasm for their areas of expertise, and that they know how to convey that enthusiasm to their audience.

I hear a lot of speakers over the course of a year and I notice how well speakers holds their audience's attention.  I also pay a lot of attention to the Q&A that follows a presentation.  There are speakers who give a terrific talk, but who then answer a few perfunctory questions and then are gone.  There is also a subset of speakers who seem to delight in putting down their audience with responses like, 'well, if you had been listening to what I was saying...'  I put a thick black like through their names.

Suzanne Mahler
One of my favorite speakers is Suzanne Mahler.  She speaks on a wide range of topics - perennials, daylilies, butterflies in the garden - or you can ask her to pull together a specialized presentation on a one-off topic.  Her handouts always list the plants she'll talk about.  And when the lights go down and she starts speaking.... people listen.  When the lights come back up and the questions start, she answers every one with care.  And, amazingly, she keeps answering those questions long after most speakers have put away their projectors and just want to get home.  She does all of this with great humor and patience. 

Still answering questions long after
the presentation is over
In short, Suzanne Mahler is a rara avis - a horticulturalist who not only loves what she does, but who transmits her knowledge in a way that inspires her audiences.  I've booked her numerous times and intend to do so again.

I write about Suzanne because, a few weeks ago, she was trimming trees at her home.  And, as fate will have it, she climbed onto her roof in order to get a better angle on a tree and she fell.  Worse, she was working when no one else was home, and she fell from her roof in a way that shattered her ankle.  To get assistance, she dragged herself some distance.  I cannot imagine the pain she musty have been in or the agony she endured.  Suzanne lives in a sparsely settled town south of Boston and the ER team at her local hospital quickly recognized that her injuries required more specialized care.  Precious hours elapsed while she was transferred to an appropriate hospital and infections set in.

Those events happened in September.  Suzanne ultimately received the care she needed, but those hours between the time of her accident and when she was properly treated took their toll.  She will be in rehabilitation for an extended period - definitely off the garden club circuit.

I write this both as a fan and an expression of my - and all her many friends - hope for a full recovery.  Get well soon, Suzanne.  There's a world full of people out there who need her enthusiasm and expertise.

(2012-2014 update:  Despite multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, the damage to Suzanne's foot proved to be too great and she lost it to amputation.  She has otherwise made a full recovery and is back on the lecturing circuit.  She continues to be a class act; one of the best speakers I have ever heard.)

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Neal! Suzanne is the most popular speaker my garden club has ever had! How good to know she is back home. Best from Sally