Opinion

COLUMN: Loss of Sue Haberger a blow to the community

Sue Haberger, right, with her mom, Liz Rowley, on the grounds of the former Riverview Hospital. In the background, A groundskeeper mowS the grass on the lower lawn of the pastoral 244-acre property. Haberger fought a battle for years to keep the lands public but lost her battle against cancer last week. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Sue Haberger, right, with her mom, Liz Rowley, on the grounds of the former Riverview Hospital. In the background, A groundskeeper mowS the grass on the lower lawn of the pastoral 244-acre property. Haberger fought a battle for years to keep the lands public but lost her battle against cancer last week.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

I made a grievous error writing an obituary for Sue Haberger this week. My article was stuffy and pretentious where she was not.

In true obituary fashion, the write-up about her all-too-soon death last Saturday tried to find the heart that made Sue tick, and failed miserably. Here's why:

Sue wasn't about seeking the limelight and purposely stayed off the executive for the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society, which has kept a public spotlight on the 244-acre property for more than 20 years. But as her good friend Ruth Foster told me, "She did all the work."

Sue wasn't really an environmental activist, she just loved nature, and the idea of selling off Riverview, as the provincial government once considered — and may still be considering — was to her a stupid thing to do. As she told me once: "To decimate this land is not logical, it goes against my whole sense of logic. And also I'm a little bit stubborn; when I see something that I think that is the right thing to do, I will do what I can to make it happen."

So she was tireless behind the scenes and, if it meant going to the media to raise an issue of concern, she would do it, even if it meant getting her picture in the paper wearing a silly green hat and a "Save Riverview" button, or crashing a goodbye luncheon for Riverview staff with her band of Raging Greenies.

It's these little acts of rebellion that earned my respect and why I was so depressed when I heard of her passing: She was my role model for aging — not aging gracefully, but noisily and with purpose.

The last time I was with Sue was in July and we were zipping around Riverview for a story on her singing protest group, the Raging Greenies. Her mom, Liz, a fellow founder of the group, and myself were squashed into her black Honda Fit and Sue was giving us a guided tour through the pastoral and somewhat creepy ghost town that is the former mental hospital. It was like she owned the place and as far as she was concerned, she was a land-holder there — along with everyone else in Coquitlam, and B.C. for that matter — for whom the property was purchased over a century ago.

While most people wouldn't step foot on Riverview property if they didn't have to, Sue made it her backyard. She cut a hole in the fence near her home at the top of the property and snipped the wires again if they were repaired. The maintenance guys gave up, I'm told, and now the hole is so big, anyone can walk through.

And that's the idea, as far as Sue was concerned.

On that July afternoon when the air was thick with the perfume of newly cut grass, Sue and, Liz, now 90, sang to me a few lines from their signature tune "Go Greenie Go." Sue said it would sound better if she had her guitar.

She spoke out not because she wanted the attention but because she believed strongly that the Riverview lands were for the people, not for bureaucrats to carve up to fill dwindling coffers or election war chests. She was persevering where most people are complacent, skeptical where many are are trusting, rebellious where the majority is diffident.

I thought at the time, "This lady is slightly nuts. And I want to be just like her.'"

I still do.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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