The College of Optometry and the profession of optometry, in general, has always benefitted – and continues to benefit – from those special individuals who make the ever-difficult and always rewarding decision to make a career change. Their maturity, leadership, and “vision” is often inspirational to their optometric family and ultimately to the patients they serve. No one exemplified these qualities better than Suzanne Hagan (’99), who passed away at age 72 on October 18th at her home in Ballwin, Missouri, surrounded by family and friends.
Suzanne obtained her BA from Brescia University and a MA from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She then had multiple careers in college teaching, science and medical writing, and editing. However, with her caring and compassionate nature she felt that – even as she was approaching 50 years of age – her calling was in a healthcare environment. In JC Hagan she had a very supportive husband, as he relates: “She found the school (UMSL) from an article in the paper on a ‘degree collector’ who had graduated in his sixties from the school and decided the school obviously did not discriminate against age or females. Her first semester she took an elective course, Entrepreneurship, and she wrote a paper on providing eye care to nursing homes. I helped with all the financials and as it turned out she did the same when she was in practice. She listed all the ‘careers’ she had had to that point, and I had her add a sentence stating that this new career would be her last. It was.”
To enter a graduate program in which you are not only older – if not much older – than all of your classmates, not to mention the great majority of the faculty, can be very challenging. It could potentially keep someone from achieving his or her dream. Anyone who knew Suzanne Hagan was cognizant of the fact that she could handle anything. Her positive personality, in combination with a “Can Do” attitude, resulted in successful completion of her Doctor of Optometry degree in May 1999, and gained her the love of her younger classmates (see tributes below) and the respect of the faculty from the College of Optometry. She devoted the rest of her life to helping others, via her efforts with those individuals in nursing homes who truly needed a Suzanne Hagan in their lives, as well as being successful in private practice.
In addition, to her husband of 50 years, Suzanne is survived by her children, Kirstie Behlmann of Ballwin, Theodore (Ted) Hagan of Denver, and Nicole (Nicki) Mounir of Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy can be made to the Hagan scholarships at Brescia University (brescia.weshareonline.org/ws/opportunities/SuzanneHaganMemorialFund), or to the Green Center, St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness (SLOCA) or the Cancer Support Community. A celebration of Suzanne’s life will be held at The Green Center (8025 Blackberry Ave, St. Louis, MO 63130) on Friday December 22, 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM.
Her feelings about her optometry home and family are best expressed by the one who loved her the most, her husband: “She was ever grateful to UMSL for providing the opportunity to achieve her lifetime dream of becoming a doctor. She always commented, and chuckled about how much older she was than any of her classmates and most of their parents. She really did like all of her classmates. She was an incredible woman.”
LOVING TRIBUTES FROM CLASSMATES
“Suzanne came into optometry school with years of life experiences that none of us had. While we were all focused on building careers and families, she was focused on helping patients in a nursing home setting. She had a warm personality and could relate to our younger classmates as well as the older patients.” Shawna Heddinghaus, OD (’99)
“Suzanne and her husband, JC, welcomed us in their home. Suzanne was a colleague, classmate, mentor, and friend. She had a unique wisdom which inspired others. I remember hearing my mom’s words when she repeated them to me. ‘Rick, you’re going to be 40 either way. You’re not too old to seek a dream.’ She will be missed.” Rick G’Sell, OD (’99)
“Suzanne was warm and caring. She was also very inquisitive and outspoken and stood up for her fellow classmates of 1999. Oh how she loved a good discussion! She was somehow able to keep her thirst for knowledge going strong through many years of schooling.” Maureen Finch, OD (’99)
“She had such a passion for learning and applying all of her knowledge, experience, and skill to help others. What Suzanne had was such an expertise in LIFE. She was so worldly and insightful. Our classmates and I were very fortunate to have Suzanne in our lives. As Dr. Suzanne Hagan, she gave her expertise, personalized care, and attention by focusing on those patients that needed it most. She generously shared with me as a colleague, a true friend, a mentor, and as a motherly figure….. I appreciated Suzanne tremendously and knew how unique and beautiful she was. I claim to be the luckiest!” Becky Lory, OD (’99)