American Veteran 01

Susan Lee Patterson

October 3, 1958 ~ July 7, 2020 (age 61)

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Susan’s Story – A Determined Life


Born October 3, 1958, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and raised in Germantown, Maryland, Susan Patterson accomplished an astounding amount in her too-short life.  Thanks to her drive and determination, Susan was able to enjoy friendships around the world while serving the U.S. with distinction.  With her wonderful spirit, Susan always chose her own path, no matter the challenge.

Even as a young girl, Susan was recognized for her formidable will. She often spoke with pride and joy about being invited to join her bigger siblings in backyard ball games. She loved knowing that she was as tough as her brothers and was never left behind or excluded just because she was a girl.  She knew that she would have to work hard for everything.  And when she succeeded, nobody was prouder of her than her family.

Susan graduated from the University of Maryland in 1980 with a language degree, speaking German and French fluently.  After completing four years of ROTC she was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.  She would retire 22 years later at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after a career replete with accomplishments and awards.

Language became the foundation of Susan’s military career and her passion.  She spent engaging and challenging years in Germany and France, with assignments at Stuttgart AFB, Berlin, and as the first female attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Upon her return to the States, she was assigned to Headquarters USAF and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. 

Thanks to her remarkable strength of will and her love of language, Susan was able to meet and work with numerous world leaders and international spokespersons.  But she also enjoyed friendships with foreign nationals of all backgrounds.  She liked nothing better than joining these friends for a good meal where she could share their language, culture, and comradery.

Susan’s indomitable spirit was the key to her success.  With it, she rose to the position of Lieutenant Colonel.  In those days, women officers were not often offered leadership positions.  But through skill, grit, and determination Susan gained acceptance and accolades from her peers.  Susan was the first foreign woman to receive the Ordre National du Mérite from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She also was given the opportunity to debrief Alexander Solzhenitsyn after years of political imprisonment.  Susan retired in 2003 after 22 years of military service and receiving numerous awards including three Meritorious Service Medals.

Susan loved telling a story about training while an attaché in France.  She had to go through a harrowing simulated kidnapping where her captors threatened her physically and mentally to gain information from her.  She was determined to give them nothing.  Instead, she tried to trick them into giving up information to her.  After many hours, the exercise was stopped when it was determined that her captors would not be able to break her.  She was told that it was the first time that the exercise had ever failed. 

Susan’s strength would become crucial in her battles with breast cancer and MS.  In 1995 she began having difficulty with her right leg and arm and was ultimately diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  For the next twenty-five years, as the MS took hold, Susan slowly lost her ability to walk, use her arms, or take care of herself.

As an example of Susan’s resolve, in the early years of her MS, when she could still move haltingly, she would take daily walks around a 2- mile loop at a park near her Virginia home.  Over time she needed to use a walker to make the trip around the park.  Finally, Susan could no longer complete the loop.  But she remained a symbol of encouragement to many of the park regulars who watched her struggle to finish her walks.  Several told her that her strength gave them hope and encouragement in their own lives.  If she could fight through bad days, so could they.  

Over her last few years, Susan remained as defiant as ever, even when she lost all ability to move.  She needed help, especially from her long-time partner, confidante, and caregiver Jim.  But her attitude was always strong and courageous. She would not let MS take her out of her home or destroy her hopes and dreams.  She continued to see every day as a gift.  “Why be negative” she would ask her family, which was not really a question but a statement of determination.

Susan lost her battle with MS on July 7, 2020 (which is coincidentally the anniversary date of her parents’ wedding).  However, throughout her illness, she refused to give up.  To her last day, she was still looking forward to walking and dancing again.  Her spirit would just not be defeated.

Susan is survived by her 3 siblings – Debra Darcey, Wayne Patterson (Anne), Jerry Patterson (Diane), and 5 nephews and nieces – Eric Darcey, Mark Patterson (Anne), Justin Patterson (Cindy), Emily Patterson, and Claire Patterson. She is also survived by her long-time partner and caregiver Jim Mammen.

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