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Notable Neighbors
home : features : notable neighbors
March 22, 2019


3/13/2019 3:55:00 PM
Notable Neighbors
Sue Comeau
Sue Comeau

Dean M. Laux


This gal shattered the "glass ceiling"


Susan Comeau will tell you, “I was blessed” to explain many events in her life, but don’t you believe it. She has always been in charge.

She was born in Bangor, Maine in 1941 to Wilfrid and Virginia Comeau, and two more little Comeaus were to follow: David and Betsy, who were respectively four and six years her junior.

Sue’s dad was a cardiologist, the first of that specialty to practice in Maine and both a student and colleague of Paul Dudley White, who gained fame for becoming President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal cardiologist. Dr. Comeau had graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Medical School, and Virginia was a Wellesley grad who worked for a brokerage house. As Sue remembers it, they had the financial means to provide for a comfortable middle class lifestyle, but they were far from rich.

When Sue was 10 years old her father died, ironically enough, from a heart attack. “There was enough money that Mom didn’t have to work for a living,” Sue recalls, but Mom was now a single mother with three young children. With no father in her life, you might expect that Sue leaned heavily on her mother to shape her life.

Didn’t happen. “Actually, my mother came to me for help and advice,” she says, especially about the needs and wants of the two younger children. Being older than her siblings by several years, Sue was a second mother to them. Sort of. “I wasn’t their favorite person,” she avers. “I was really bossy, and they didn’t take kindly to that, though we’re close now.” 

She breezed through middle school and high school in Orono, Maine with pretty much all A’s and graduated second in her class. “Well, it was a small high school, and there were only 44 kids in my graduating class,” she says, as if to downplay her performance, but she might have been second if there were 500 in her class. And she took on considerable responsibility running the school’s candy concession, collecting money and distributing candies to her sugar-craving schoolmates. “I was their vending machine,” she states with a smile.

After high school Sue didn’t go to Wellesley, which disappointed her mom. She went to Colby College in Maine, another fine New England institution. “When I arrived there, my idea of diversity was meeting someone from New Jersey,” she says. Colby showed her diversity. “Wellesley was an all-women’s school, and Colby was co-ed. It was a small school, and I got to know most of the students there. I made great friends, and it was the greatest time in my life.” Apparently she even got along with folks from New Jersey.

Sue majored in economics, an offbeat major for women in those days. “I didn’t even know what economics was,” she says, “but I took a course and then stayed with it.” That was to be one of her defining characteristics: Don’t be afraid to try something new, and give yourself a chance to succeed.

She graduated in 1963 and applied for jobs in Boston, thinking that marketing or personnel might be right for her. So she ended up with a job at a bank. Go figure. Specifically, it was State Street Bank & Trust Company, then a relatively small institution with about 1,200 employees headquartered in Boston that specialized in mutual funds and custodial services. She took it and ended up staying with the firm for 38 years. “They put me in the mutual funds division,” she says. “My job was to answer letters from customers who had questions. There weren’t 800-numbers in those days, and there was no internet. So when letters came in, I’d research the problem they were having and write an answer. If a correction was needed, I’d make it.” After a brief time she was making those corrections without clearance from a higher authority. At age 21, fresh out of college, she had been given a job that involved a great deal of responsibility. And all that research gave her, over time, considerable expertise in mutual funds, so Sue began moving up in the ranks of the company.

 “I was blessed,” she says. (Where have we heard that before?) “Companies were looking for women to move up to higher-level positions.” In the 1960s, feminists were decrying the barriers that prevented high-performing women from attaining the highest jobs in their fields, and the metaphor of the “glass ceiling” became a rallying cry for them. Sue was mobile. She was not married and never did quite find the ideal fit for a lifetime commitment. She was willing to try new assignments, and she was very good at what she did. Soon she went from the mutual funds division to the custodial division, taking care of customer accounts.

One weekend along the way, she got a call from the Bank’s president, asking her if she’d be willing to become Vice President/Marketing. “I didn’t know anything about marketing, and I told him that,” she says. But she took the job. It wasn’t long before she got another call, this time asking her to head up the retail banking division, managing the six or seven branch banks that State Street had. She said yes. “I’m a fixer,” she admits, “and these operations needed fixing.” Sue was as “no nonsense” then as she was with her younger siblings growing up.

For the last seven years of her career at State Street Bank, Sue held yet another position: Executive Vice President and head of human resources, responsible for this now giant corporation’s 20,000 employees around the globe. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?

 

During her strikingly successful career, Susan Comeau became a wealthy woman. She retired in 2001 and moved to Englewood in 2002. She found Boca Royale Country Club through a friend’s mother and had a house built there. “I like the small town feel of Englewood,” she says. “And the people at our club are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.” Her objective in retirement? “Resting,” she says.

But of course that’s not all. She’s also a philanthropist. She has given substantial sums to favorite charities such as Season of Sharing and Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre. She has an annual rota of five charities that she gives to, and she has funded the college and university educations of some 20 grandnieces and grandnephews. She also helped “rescue” Boca Royale with a financial investment when members were forced to take over ownership and maintenance of its golf course. She is certainly one of the most popular residents of that community.

 “I’ve been blessed” to be able to do these things, she says simply. Well, maybe. But chance favors the prepared mind. And Sue has been prepared her whole life. She’s an inspiration to today’s young women who might be looking to shatter some glass themselves.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: tomnewton@englewodreview.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.

 

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: tomnewton@englewodreview.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.








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