Susan Richard Sisson
Susan Richard was born in 1944 in Pawtucket, RI where her father was a barber and her mother, an office worker. Friends of the Richards, also from Pawtucket (referred to as “The City”) had a small cottage adjacent to South Shore Beach in Round Meadows. The Richards were invited to stay in the cottage where they fell in love with this coastal town. Susan thus spent many hours on South Shore Beach.
After attending St. Leo’s School in Pawtucket, Susan entered St. Xavier’s Academy in Providence, RI, a Sisters of Mercy high school. She went on to the University of Rhode Island where she intended to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. However, after completing one year she decided not to return to URI and went to work at Texas Instruments in Attleboro, MA. During this time she rented a cottage in Little Compton and met the love of her life, Russell Sisson. By 1966 they were engaged but the country was then in the midst of the Vietnam war and Uncle Sam drafted Russell. They married in June of 1967 and by October, Russell was off to Ninh Hoa, Vietnam. Fortunately, in October of 1968, he returned home safely. They settled in Little Compton and raised their family of four children: Rebecca, Michael, David and Bethany. Russell worked for the Town of Swansea and Susan had numerous part-time jobs, including being a care giver for an elderly 90 year old. Was that position the seed to being Director of Social Services? Susan tended to the woman at night, then went home to get her four children off to school, and then off to her other part time jobs. The energy required must have been astounding.
One of Susan’s positions was as an aide in the Josephine Wilbur/K.B. McMahon School. Her dedication to children and education led her to serve on the Little Compton School Committee. Susan served for nine years, the last two as Chairperson. The years of service were 1983-1992.
She never did pursue her career in veterinary science, but did take evening courses at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts. In one of the writing classes, she was encouraged by her professor to consider a career in writing. When he asked her who her favorite writer was, she immediately responded “Erma Bombeck!” Apparently, he was not impressed, she told me, but knowing what a great mother she is, I was not at all shocked.
Once their family was grown, Susan and Russell traveled throughout the US, even as far as Alaska, her favorite state to visit. She remembers the highlight of the trip being the helicopter ride landing them on a glacier! When asked what foreign country is on her “bucket list” to visit, she replied instantly, “Switzerland”. But with the world in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, it is difficult to imagine getting to her dream destination at this point.
As stated, in the 1990’s, Mrs. Sisson was deeply involved in her community. In 1996, the president of the Little Compton Assistance Association, Robert Hill, asked if she would be interested in the position of Director of Public Welfare. She said yes and a formal letter was forwarded to the Town Council. It requested the appointment of an active Director of Public Welfare. The Council obliged. At Susan’s request, the title was changed to Director of Social Services, eliminating the stigma of the term “public welfare”. Her position offered a yearly stipend of $300.00! This included no office, no business phone, and on the job “training” included three grocery bags of unopened correspondence. It is important to remember that many in the community were unaware that Little Compton needed a department of public assistance as the town was then (and continues somewhat today) to be viewed as a very affluent community. Susan knew then, and states now, that many are intimidated by public assistance programs. It takes a great deal of intuitive empathy and training to assess a client’s true needs. Referrals come from the Town Clerk, Police/Fire Department, local school and churches.
Some of the hats Mrs. Sisson has worn in the past 34 years as Director of Social Services include:
- Co-director of the Little Compton food bank, currently housed in the Wellness Center, 115 East Main Rd.
- Member of the local food bank fundraisers, such as Singing Out Against Hunger
- Organizer of Holiday Food Baskets
- Assisting with “Giving Tree” distributions
- Board member of the Little Compton Assistance Association
- Referrals for the Food Stamp and Heating Assistance programs
- Assessment of senior resource needs
- Conducts home visits to aid clients in completing applications for various programs
When I asked if she knew what person or event lead her to this life of social services, I thought perhaps the answer would be the Mercy Nuns at her parochial school. “Oh, no” replied Susan. “They showed me no mercy!” Undoubtedly, her sense of humor has helped her to continue in this position for 34 years. After pondering the question, she replied it probably was the result of the kindness and caring of the community to their family when her husband was in a serious work-related accident in 1977. She has never forgotten that.
Plans for the future? She would like to have a huge sign placed on Pikes Peak thanking the community for their assistance during this pandemic. Her programs receive no funding from the town budget, only donations from individuals and organizations in town.
At the end of the interview, I posed this question to Susan. “Looking back at your life’s accomplishments, what are you most proud of?” to which she replied with a gorgeous smile and a tear in her eye, “I am most proud of the fact that all four of my children are successful”. As of this writing, Susan and Russell have been married 53 years, they have 4 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Susan Sisson truly epitomizes service to one’s community.