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Saturday, December 15, 2018

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Portrait of Susan Weber painted by David Graeme Baker . Portrait of Susan Weber painted by David Graeme Baker .

In Memoriam: Susan K. Weber

Susan Weber was First Lady of San Diego State University for 15 years.

Susan Keim Weber, whose energy and intelligence distinguished her 15 years as first lady of San Diego State University, passed away early Sunday, Oct. 12, in Hancock, Maine. The cause was pulmonary fibrosis. She was 73.

While her husband, Dr. Stephen Weber, solidified SDSU’s standing as a leading public research university during his term as president, Susan helped raise the university’s profile in San Diego with her leadership of community organizations.

Among her proudest accomplishments was the founding of BRIDGES, a group of SDSU alumni and friends who formed a dynamic link between the university and the San Diego region.

A gracious and convivial hostess, Susan received thousands of guests at the Webers’ residence, University House. By opening their home and enthusiastically sharing the university’s story, the Webers became SDSU’s most effective ambassadors.

Multiple degrees

Susan Keim was born in Urbana, Ohio, on June 24, 1941. An excellent student and champion debater in high school, she attended Bowling Green State University, where she met her future husband in a modern British poetry class. They were together for 52 years.

While Stephen was absorbed in philosophy, his major, Susan joined a sorority, participated in theater productions and earned two degrees – a Bachelor of Science in education and a Bachelor of Arts in American studies.

“The most significant thing that happened to me in college was that I met Susan,” Stephen Weber said years later.

They married in 1965 and had two sons, Richard Lewis Weber, an attorney, and Matthew Keim Weber, who works in Afghanistan on projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Stephen Weber often referred to his marriage as a partnership in which Susan was the savvy communicator and invaluable sounding board.

“Susan is a gregarious person who works the room much better than I do,” he said in a 2011 interview. “Everything I’ve learned about socializing, I learned from her.”

College lecturer

Susan taught English and speech in middle and high schools while her husband completed a master’s degree at the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

In 1969, Stephen Weber joined the philosophy department at the University of Maine at Orono, where the couple established deep roots that continued to grow long after they had left the state. While based in San Diego, they spent summers in Maine and retired there in 2011.

Although Maine was her home base, Susan Weber loved to travel. Her trips took her around the world from Central America and Europe to Africa, the Middle East and Asia – and into the far regions of the high Arctic.

During the early 1980s, Stephen Weber served as dean of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Susan earned a master’s degree from Fairfield’s School of Corporate and Political Communication and also did market research. She later taught communication at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where her husband was vice president for Academic Affairs, and at the State University of New York, Oswego, where he served as president.

First among Aztecs

The Webers came to San Diego in 1996, when Stephen was appointed the seventh president of San Diego State University. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, Stephen worked to raise SDSU’s national profile and readied the university to launch its first comprehensive fundraising campaign. He said he always thought of himself and Susan as a team “encouraging a university capable of greatness.”

Susan became a community leader, serving as board president of the YWCA of San Diego County from 2001 to 2004 and board member for the June Burnett Institute. She also was active on the grants committee of the San Diego Women’s Foundation and the advisory committee of the SDSU Field Stations Program.

On campus, Susan was a lecturer in the Department of Communication and a member of the SDSU Centennial Steering Committee, but her most significant and strategic achievement was the founding of BRIDGES.  

Although the group’s original mission was not philanthropic, the more BRIDGES members learned about SDSU, the more committed they became.

Impressed by the remarkable students in SDSU’s Honors Program, BRIDGES members created a scholarship endowment to support them – an endowment later named after Susan Weber. BRIDGES also contributed to the development of SDSU’s Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center with a gift that named the building’s terrace.

“BRIDGES members have supported SDSU because we were inspired by all the Webers have accomplished,” said Jane Haskel, a close friend of Susan’s.

Philanthropic contributions

In 2003, Susan created Aztec P.R.I.D.E. (Philanthropic Role in Development and Education), a student organization whose members interact with VIPs during campus visits and events organized by the President’s Office. Each year, Susan would work with an advisory committee to carefully select new members, based on their engagement in community life and superior communication skills.

The Webers’ commitment to SDSU manifested itself in treasure as well as time. During their 15 years on campus, they gave more than $1 million to support the university’s students, faculty and innovative programs.

Stephen Weber also surprised his wife with a gift to name the Manchester Hall president’s conference room in her honor. At the base of the hall’s front steps, he inscribed their initials in wet concrete.  

In addition to her husband, Stephen, and two sons, Richard and Matthew, Susan is survived by two grandsons, Colin and Aaron, and a daughter-in-law, Kathleen.

Shortly before the Webers left SDSU in 2011, Susan penned a characteristically witty message for the program distributed to guests at their farewell gala:

“Whenever I think of the last 15 years, what pops into my mind is an image of a rose bush blooming right next to a cactus. … Whether you think of the Webers as a species of cacti or a type of rose, we appreciate your support and friendship, both for us and for San Diego State. It has been a privilege to serve.”

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, you consider a gift in Susan’s name to the BRIDGES Endowment Fund, which administers the Susan K. Weber Scholarship. Gifts also may be made to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy in Hancock, Maine. Condolences may be sent to 230 West Shore Road, P.O. Box 8, Hancock, ME  04640.