For 19 years, Susan W. Hayes was the anchor of the ReSurge office. As president and CEO, she helped us fulfill our mission, tap into new donor networks and evolve our business model to improve patient access to care.
Now, as she prepares for retirement, she reflects on the three things that made her tenure so rewarding -- the people, the mission and the memories.
For Susan, it always starts with the people: the medical and other personnel who volunteer their time; the donors who give generously even though they'll never meet the patients whose lives they’re changing; and the board members and colleagues who are just as impassioned about making a difference as she is.
The people were always a big part of Susan's equation. But just as important was the ReSurge mission, which infused her job with meaning. As she's fond of retelling, whenever she had a difficult decision to make she often thought back to one of the first ReSurge patients she ever met, a 15-year-old Peruvian girl named Violeta.
It was 1996, and Susan was part of a ReSurge team participating on a mission in Cusco. There she met Violeta, one of about 400 people who’d crammed into a hospital hallway in the Andes to request care. Violeta's appearance was striking, but unfortunately not in a good way.
She had suffered a burn as a 6-year-old that caused her face to melt. Her eyes had sunk down to where her cheekbones were, her mouth was where her chin should be and her chin had fused to her chest, making it impossible for her to look up. Her fingers had also fused so each hand was a rounded fist.
As the staff examined her, her father proudly announced that she goes to school and gets top grades. Susan was amazed. How does a child with such challenges still go to school, much less excel in her studies?
Susan didn’t realize it at the time, but that encounter changed her life. From then on Violeta’s example would gently influence how she did her job.
“She became my beacon light,” Susan says. “In any organization with lots of constituents -- the board, international partners, staff -- it’s sometimes difficult to serve them all. What Violeta helped me remember is, there’s ultimately only one customer: the patient.”
Susan enjoys looking back at her many fond memories of ReSurge. At the same time, she‘s excited to look forward to retirement. She plans to spend the next six months relaxing and reading in the back yard. After that she plans to teach and consult in nonprofit management, write an autobiographical book or two, travel and play the piano.
Her last day at ReSurge is Tuesday, June 30. She knows it'll be hard to say goodbye. But she takes comfort from something a family friend once advised as Susan's family liquidated her parents' estate. Family members had been sifting through sentimental items, knowing it was time to part with them but having trouble letting go. And each time, the friend would give their hand a reassuring squeeze and softly say, “It's okay, let it bless someone else.”
Those words have stayed with Susan to this day, especially today. She says it’s not easy to walk away from ReSurge after investing nearly two decades of passion, but it's time. Time to pass on the reins. Time to give her successor, Jeff Whisenant, the same chance to do great things that she'd been given 19 years ago.
And so in her final week on the job she wrote a poem to capture her feelings. She's a lifelong poet but she tends to keep her works to herself. This time she was willing to share her poem, a brief but heartfelt ode to the organization.
Last day at ReSurge, I bid you goodbye
And thank you for all of the years, with a sigh
For the honor of leading this talented team,
Every moment a privilege, the years like a dream.
So I pass on this chair and remark to myself
Thank you, ReSurge … as you “bless someone else.”