Suzanne M. Bianchi, my mentor in graduate school, passed away on Nov.4. She was only 61, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July, and left us only after a few months. Suzanne was one of the healthiest people I’ve ever known, her passing was sudden.
Suzanne was a distinguished scholar and a remarkable person. Her contribution to the field of time use and family demography has been far-reaching. NY Times, Washington Post, LA times, and many other news outlets have published nice tributes about her. Her online journal through caring bridge (run by her daughter Jen) has received more than 20,000 visits.
Suzanne has always been my role model. In addition to her successful career, she had a happy marriage and raised three children successfully. Family has always been her inspiration for research. She devoted her professional career to studying balancing work and family and gender equality. She set an example herself that “having it all” was possible.
Last July, I had a chance to visit Suzanne at the UCLA campus (she left Maryland and joined UCLA in 2009). This was the last time I saw her in person. It was a beautiful day. Suzanne showed me around the campus and took me to lunch at the faculty club. She felt like an old friend. She was excited about her new book and her new condo near the Santa Monica beach. We chatted about the changing demographic trends and how our own lives were affected. I said, “Suzanne, I think you have a perfect life.” “You know what? I actually agree with you” said Suzanne, with a smile on her face. It was a great moment.
Both being demographers, we know how American families have changed over time, and how challenging it is for a woman to balance work and family and to “have it all.” If there is anything I feel good about, it is the fact that Suzanne has achieved all, she has no regrets.
I am privileged to have Suzanne as my mentor during my six years of graduate school at the University of Maryland. Despite all the titles and awards she achieved, Suzanne was a very modest person. She treated everyone with respect, whether it was a first year student or a well-known scholar in the field.
Suzanne was a very supportive mentor. Her calmness and her kindness always comforted me. Being an international student, I was sometimes conscious about my English. Suzanne never made me feel that I was somehow different from other students. But Suzanne also understood International students’ challenges. I remember one spring, a Chinese girl in the department died (it was a tragedy). At the time many of us were at a conference, and we were shocked by the news. Suzanne saw me from a distance; she came up and gave me a big hug, asked: “Are you OK?” Simple words like this touched me. After all, it was not easy to leave family, travel thousands of miles and study in a foreign country.
Suzanne could be very tough as well. Honestly, my feelings for her were mostly fear during my time at Maryland. She had high standards and she demanded her students to do best work. My dissertation on father involvement was a tough project. It took me two years to finish. Suzanne asked me to test many different hypotheses and kept pushing me to do more and more. There was a time I felt like giving up (Glad I didn’t). I think she saw something there that was worth pursuing and she pushed. To this day, I still use her phrases on a daily base: “Past success predicts future” and “Deadline is the best strategy to get things done.”
Suzanne was very generous and she loved her students. Every time she traveled abroad, she brought back gifts for each of us. She took us out for lunch before the holidays and she gathered all of her students and bought us dinner at conferences. When her book “Changing Rhythms of American family life” was published, the publisher gave her some gift cards. She gave all the gifts cards to us, so that we each could buy $100 worth of books…
While preparing this post, I found this card she gave me at my graduation ceremony in 2008:
You did a fabulous dissertation, overcame health obstacles and were just an exemplary student. Now with an exciting job- you should be proud… as I am of you!
I look forward to being your colleague and hopefully collaborator- for a very long time. You make my job worth doing.
All the best,
Tears have blurred my eyes when I am reading this. I only have two publications with Suzanne so far. I had hoped to be a collaborator for a very long time. Suzanne had high remarks of the work that Pew Research Center does, and she visited Pew a couple of years ago with some great ideas of collaboration. It is so sad that she left too soon…
Suzanne, you once said that your biggest “award” was to see your students finishing up and getting their Ph.D.s. I am so honored to have contributed to that award. Thank you for being a wonderful mentor and friend, for all the support that you’ve given me. I will carry on your legacy and continue studying families. After all, family is the most important thing of all–we start and end with it.
Here are my favorite news articles that featured Suzanne’s research:
Time magazine, August 8, 2011 “Chore Wars” (Cover story) (http://bccwf.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/chore-wars/)
The New York times, October 17, 2006, “Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/us/17kids.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
And some highlights of Suzanne work on gender, work and family issues:
Changing Rhythms of American Family Life (https://www.russellsage.org/publications/changing-rhythms-american-family-life)
Continuity and Change in the American Family (http://www.sagepub.com/textbooks/Book220814)
Balancing Act: Motherhood, Marriage, and Employment Among American Women (https://www.russellsage.org/publications/balancing-act )
American Women in Transition (https://www.russellsage.org/publications/american-women-transition)
December 22, 2013 at 9:35 am
Wonderful tribute! Thank you Wendy.
January 3, 2014 at 10:32 am
Wendy, I’m just catching up to this post and I have tears in my eyes, too, though I never met Suzanne. Thank you for sharing this essay.
January 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm
Thank you Susannah. It was such a privilege to be her student…
January 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm
Wendy – thanks so much for reminding us of the gifts we receive from our mentors that can never be repaid but only passed along, as we continue the chain. Suzanne touched my life only in a very small way, really – but it was a genuine touch that I will always cherish.
February 6, 2014 at 3:36 pm
Beautifully written Wendy. I didn’t know Suzanne well, but she was just as you described her … talented, humble, happy. A gift to our field and the only two-time winner of the Kanter award. She and her great work will be much missed by all of us. Brad Harrington, Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family