Sue S. McWilliams, 62, financial officer of family's nursery

September 12, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sue S. McWilliams, retired chief financial officer of Maxalea Nurseries Inc., died Friday of breast cancer at her Idlewylde home. She was 62.

Mrs. McWilliams, who had battled breast cancer for seven years, lived at Sumac, her home on the grounds of the 20-acre Idlewylde nursery established by her in-laws, James and Marion McWilliams, in 1929.

Because sumac was a prolific plant on their property, she and her husband named their home after the plant, as well as their 43-foot, cream-colored trawler in which they enjoyed sailing.

Mrs. McWilliams began working in the business in 1962 and retired in 1997, because of failing health.

"Sue helped my mother with the bookkeeping and then took it over as my mother grew older," said her husband of 38 years and high school sweetheart, John E. "Jack" McWilliams Sr.

"She was strictly behind the scenes, but she helped take the business to greatness," said Mr. McWilliams, also retired from the business that is now operated by third-generation family members.

Somewhat reserved in demeanor, Mrs. McWilliams deftly handled the day-to-day financial operations of the business that is known for its wide-ranging selection of azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, evergreens and other plants, her husband said.

While her husband was the gardener along with his brother, Mrs. McWilliams enjoyed "cutting the fruits of the garden," he added.

A Baltimore native, Sue Sands was raised in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County and attended Sweet Briar College after graduating from Towson High School. She worked briefly in the alumni office of the Johns Hopkins University before going to work at the nursery.

Mrs. McWilliams enjoyed wintering at a second home the couple maintained in the Caribbean at Pine Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands and helping improve a school there.

"She was very dedicated to the Pine Cay Project, which offered a hand to needy students. She was also very concerned about literacy issues. Sue was the kind of person who wanted to help and give back," said her husband.

The project transformed a rural school with dirt floors and inadequate facilities for 200 students into a modern one with a new building -- and equipped with computers.

"She had a zest for living and faced her illness directly, never letting it get her down. She was interested in the quality of life, not the quantity," said Lyn Cook of Homeland, a close friend for 35 years. "The positive beauty of the way she conducted herself has left a legacy of hope to those behind her."

Mrs. McWilliams had been a member of the Junior League of Baltimore, where she had been active in a drug prevention program directed at students.

She was an accomplished needlepoint worker and gourmet cook who enjoyed entertaining family and friends at dinner parties.

Mrs. McWilliams was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held in the chapel at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. McWilliams is survived by a son, John E. McWilliams Jr. of Mays Chapel; a sister, Mary Hubbell Blaker of Parkton; and two grandchildren.

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