By every account, she was a woman for all culinary seasons and primed to go into a kitchen and whip up pies, jams, red sauce, green sauce and juices, too, especially apple juice. She made the most of the bounty of the county. Food was a part of Sue Deevy’s personal history, so it’s not surprising that she belonged to and was an active participant in the Slow Food movement which promotes locally grown, healthy food. It would have appealed to Sue that Carlo Petrini, an Italian and a co-founder of Slow Food, came out of the Kropotkin-inspired anarchist movement of mutual-aid.
The invitation to her memorial described Sue as “daughter, sister, friend, lover, coworker, advocate, medicinal herb guru and all around incredible human being.” She was also a writer, a voracious reader and a caretaker for people who were ill and needed help.
Everyone who met Sue and got to know her, however briefly, remembers her fondly and with reservoirs of deep feelings, even now two years after her sudden and unexpected death on June 5, 2020 in Bodega of an apparent heart failure. She is survived by Dan Deevy, a brother, who remembers her warmly and recalls that they got along well when they were kids growing up together and later when they entered adulthood both of them gay.
Memories of Sue crowd around her though she has been gone for more than two years. Edie Otis, a Sonoma County friend, took a deep dive into her memory bank, salvaged memories and explained that Sue had an encyclopedic mind and that she remembered “tidbits and fascinating anecdotes.” Otis added, “Sue had a strong personality and always told it the way it was.” Paula Shatkin remembered that she got to know Sue fortuitously. One day, she noticed a bumper sticker on a car cruising down her lane that read “Save the Gravensteins.” The rest, as they say, is history. Recruited to take part in the Apple Core, Sue didn’t need much encouragement to join. You might say she recruited herself.
The memorial at the Fork Roadhouse, one of Sue’s favorite restaurants, was held about a year after her passing. It was attended by many of Deevy’s co-workers from the Slow Food Russian River Apple Core, and by friends, including Albert Straus of Straus Family Creamery. The feelings of friends come later in this tribute to her. First, some basic biographical and historical facts.
Born in 1947, Suzanne Ellen Deevy grew up in an Irish/Italian family in Petaluma. Her mother was Swiss-Italian and came to the US as an infant. Her father, who was born in Sonoma County, had Irish ancestors. Both parents worked in the dairy industry and operated ranches in Olema in West Marin, and elsewhere. Sue attended St. Vincent High School and soon thereafter graduated from UC Berkeley where she studied history, and honed the ability to remember significant facts and share them when needed and when appropriate to illustrate an idea or a point, or just to entertain.
Somewhere along her journey, she realized that she loved women, was attracted to women romantically and wanted to live and work side-by-side with sisters who were, in the parlance of the time, “women identified women” who didn’t look to men for council, wisdom and explanations of how things worked or didn’t. “Mansplaining” was a concept she learned early in life.
As a young woman she moved from Sonoma County to southern Oregon and joined a collective called “WomanShare,” defined online as “a woman’s land and feminist retreat,” and that was established in 1974 as part of the “rural revolution” that swept across the US. The members sometimes spelled the word “women” as “womyn” and as “wimmin.” Sharing and conviviality were essential. Members were meant to take equal responsibility for power, money, work, loving and learning.
Out of that experience on the land with other women, emerged a book titled Country Lesbians: The Story of the WomanShare Collective, which Sue co-wrote with Nelly Kaufer, Dian Wagner, Carol Newhouse and Billie Miracle. Published first in 1976, it boasts a colorful cover that depicts a young woman at work outdoors. It sold for $6. At least one other edition followed the first. All editions are now out-of-print. The Sitting Room in Penngrove, a private library specializing in books by, for and about women, has a rare copy.
Paula Shatkin, a leader with the Slow Food Russian River Apple Core, read County Lesbians and found it “fascinating,” she said, in part because the commune she joined in LA and belonged to decades ago, followed a trajectory similar to the trajectory of Sue’s collective. Divided into six chapters, Country Lesbians is both personal and political. The first part, Shatkin explained, “chronicles childhood, class differences, coming out, sharing, the self-discovery of women in their 20s, plus taking multiple lovers and financial difficulties.” The next part of the book addresses practical matters: how to use a chainsaw, preserve summer crops, build things and survive cold winters. At the end, the authors look back at their five years together and wisely observe, “our country life is a good one, but it is not a complete world in itself. We seek a balance between our lesbian separatist tendencies and our need to contribute to the larger women’s culture.”
After Sue left Oregon, she lived and worked in Seattle, where she managed The Wild Rose, a pub and restaurant. Then her roots called to her. She returned to and settled in Sonoma County, where she knew people who belonged to the old Italian and Portuguese families. She brought with her, her feminism and her lesbian identity. If anything, both became stronger, though not strident. For a time, she managed the Cotati Food Coop, a mainstay of the community, until competition from places like Trader Joe’s became too stiff and it was forced to close.
Sue moved on, just around the corner, so to speak, to Oliver’s Market. Tom Scott, now the retired CEO at Oliver’s in Cotati, remembered that “Sue advocated for the ascendancy of women in the organization” and that in part because of her advocacy, Oliver’s hired more women to work in the store. Scott also remembered that Sue “never hesitated to speak truth to power,” and to offer him her advice, “usually about the integrity and the sources of the supplements we sold.” He added, “She was inspirational,” as well as knowledgeable.
Others found her equally well informed, often on the subject of herbal remedies. “She was my go-to-person about herbs,” Paula Downing, a longtime Slow Food leader, said. Downing remembered that, unlike some lesbians, Sue was “against male bashing” and that it was “exciting to meet someone who went against the lesbian line.” Sue thought for herself and didn’t adopt groupthink. Others remembered that she worked on the school gardens program through Slow Food, and that at the apple press, operated by the Apple Core, she helped kids make juice. More importantly perhaps, she was the organizer of the Apple Core team that juiced apples for tastings at the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol. A member of the leadership team at Slow Food Russian River, Sue took notes on yellow legal pads when she attended meetings, and apparently didn’t use a computer.
In many ways, Sue came into her own when she joined and participated actively in Slow Food. The movement, with its emphasis on the local and on conviviality, suited her and she suited the movement. Some of her closest friends belonged and still belong to Slow Food. They do their best to keep her spirit alive. Whether it was saving Gravensteins, helping to preserve rural ways and rural communities, nurturing co-oops and enjoying food and drink in Sonoma County pubs and restaurants as well as in the homes of friends—those were some of Sue Deevy’s vital ways of being in the world. Memories of her live on. So does her purity of heart and her gentle spirit.