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Susan Heckler (Kruger)

SUSAN K. HECKLER

Susan Heckler died peacefully on the evening of Christmas Day 2021.

Her life was one of unselfish kindness, enthusiastic endeavor, calm competence and steadfast embrace of those she loved.

Her wonderful though too often difficult life began on January 15, 1947 in Jersey City, NJ. She was the only child of Lt. Col. Raymond C. Kruger and his wife Mary. During her elementary school years, the family moved to Buckingham, Pennsylvania and she graduated Central Bucks H.S. in 1965. During 1965 her father was transferred to Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas. That fall she entered the University of Texas planning to be a teacher. Soon however, she decided as a first priority to marry her chosen partner in life who was then attending college in Connecticut. On March 30, 1967 Susan married David Heckler in Round Rock, Texas. In January of 1968 she joined her husband in New Haven and on August 15 of that year Catherine Elizabeth Heckler, known ever more as Betsy, was born.

After college, Dave attended law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Sue at times provided day care to children, worked at a country store in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains and amassed a menagerie of foundling dogs. The couple returned to Bucks County just in time for son Matthew Ward Heckler to be born at Doylestown Hospital. Dave took up work as an Assistant Bucks County District Attorney.

The family resided first in Doylestown Boro and beginning in 1977 in the Doylestown Township fixer-up farmhouse where Sue died 44 years later. There, until she faced the two great challenges of her life, Sue peacefully raised her children and the first of a series of Newfoundland dogs and Maine Coon cats which would brighten the family’s life. She also began exploring her creative talents, first with needle and thread and later with brush and canvas.

Her first great challenge came in the summer of 1981 when Betsy, then about to turn 13, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Betsy began treatment at St. Christopher’s Hospital and later received a bone marrow transplant from her courageous brother Matt at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The transplant gained Betsy several years of comparative good health, but ultimately the cancer returned and in mid-July 1988 Betsy died at CHOP where she had received so many years of attentive care. During those years, Sue faced a parent’s worst nightmare with unfailing devotion. She was Betsy’s daily companion, tireless advocate and rock of support. It was during these years that Sue found her life’s calling. During Betsy’s good spells Sue began nursing classes at Bucks County Community College. She ultimately became a Registered Nurse and commenced duty as a floor nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Sue was always a strong swimmer, having been rigorously trained at Doylestown’s Fanny Chapman pool. A fond memory is of the Mother Daughter relays held annually for alumni. Betsy, significantly weakened by her illness but still game, would swim her lap, leaving her Mom a huge deficit. Sue would then fly through the water to recoup, on at least one occasion pulling out an overall victory.

The second great challenge to befall Sue was her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis which came in the mid 1980’s. At first her symptoms were largely limited to intermittent fuzzy vision, but as years went on she experienced the numbness of feet and hands and periodic fatigue typical of the disease. It was then that she had the great good fortune to be referred to the Neurology Clinic at HUP where she received then-experimental treatments which dramatically reduced her symptoms. Unfortunately, after seven good years, testing revealed the imminence of PML, a fatal infection of the brain. Stopping her medication limited the threat but began a period of gradual decline.

During her good years Sue threw herself enthusiastically into a wide variety of endeavors. She became President of the CB East Football Parents Association during Matt’s senior year. She became a superb baker and a more than competent cook. Invitations to dine on her fare were rarely declined. While Sue enjoyed working as a campaign volunteer for State Sen. Ed Howard, she had serious reservations about her husband’s entry into elective politics.

Nevertheless, once the decision was made, she was Dave’s most stalwart supporter. Though non-confrontational by nature, Sue’s day-long battle with a veteran Committee Woman at an important polling place during his first primary election is the stuff of legend. When, late in his career and well into her MS, Dave wanted to leave his judgeship to run for DA against a serious and well-funded opponent, Sue joined him in throwing caution to the winds. Though somewhat dimmed, her bright blue Irish eyes still flashed when she faced adversity and together they prevailed. Through-out their lifelong partnership Sue remained in all things her husband’s most relied upon source of counsel as well as encouragement.

As the need arose, Sue looked after not only Dave and their children but also her father who lived with them for roughly a decade before his death and later Dave’s mother Grace Heckler who shared their home for several years. When the daily commute to HUP became burdensome, Sue transferred her nursing career to Doylestown Hospital. There she was beloved by her patients for her empathy and gentle care and was beloved by her colleagues for her kindness and her willingness to deal respectfully but firmly with the occasional imperious doctor. Eventually, the rigors of floor nursing became too much and Sue took a position in Quality Assurance. She retired in 2009. Aware because of her husband’s work of the needs of crime victims, Sue served for some years as a member of the Board of Directors of the Network of Victim Assistance, Bucks County’s outstanding victim service organization.

Through her middle years, when she could, largely self-taught, Sue painted. Frequently her subjects were animals, generally looking straight at the viewer from the canvas. At the urging of a framer, she offered some of her work for sale and was tickled when her paintings sold. She even performed a few commissions over which she labored painstakingly. However, as the years passed, MS impacted her abilities and later her focus and she stopped painting, though she still gathered materials she hoped to paint in the future.

Similarly, when Matt and his wonderful wife Toni were blessed with daughters Emi and Anna, Sue strove to recapture the skills that had created dozens of stuffed toys for her own and friends children in earlier years. She started several times but just couldn’t manage to accomplish what she sought to do. Through it all, she doggedly struggled to retain independence. She got around with a cane, resisting a walker or wheel chair. She insisted on grocery shopping, though others could have done it in half the time. She kept up with the news, always got out to vote and in recent years feared for our country’s future at the hands of the party she had supported for a lifetime.

Through all of her years of adversity she never complained. She reported the symptoms she was experiencing, but only so that they could be addressed or aid in diagnosis. While her advancing limitations frustrated her, she did her best to ignore them and she didn’t winge. Although particularly impaired through the last six weeks of her life, she resisted any thought of leaving home. As she had always managed to bounce back from periods of incapacity, it came as a surprise when she quietly died sitting napping next to Dave on Christmas evening. Sue’s spirit never quit. It was only her body that had at long last had enough.

In addition to her husband, Sue is survived by her son Matthew, his wife Antonia and their daughters Emilia and Anna. She is also survived by Dave’s sister Susan Heckler of Schwenksville, PA. Sue also held in deep affection Toni’s mother Lucia Ionescu, her beloved Uncle Mike Kitson of Colonia NJ and her dear friend of many years Karen Doman of Nockamixon Township.

A time for friends to gather in Sue’s memory will be scheduled by the family when the world is a bit safer.

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