Sewall W. 'Susie' Mann

Athlete known as 'Daredevil Granny' embarked on series of adventures after terminal cancer diagnosis

February 28, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sewall W. "Susie" Mann, a lifelong athlete who was known as the "Daredevil Granny" and who embarked on an odyssey of adventures that included sky diving and swimming with dolphins after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer last summer, died of the disease Feb. 15 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.

The Mercy Ridge resident was 79.

After a long history of cardiac disease, Mrs. Mann, who was known as "Susie," had successful bypass surgery last March, only to find out four months later that she had terminal stomach cancer.

She was given six to nine months to live.

"She said, 'Then that's what I'm going to do,' " said a son, Thomas B. Weadock of Ruxton. "Her belief was that 'there was no guarantee for tomorrow, there is only now.' "

When family and friends attempted to console Mrs. Mann over her prognosis, she had a quick answer for them. " 'Just get over it, and go for it!' " her son said.

Her oncologist recommended chemotherapy and radiation, whose side effects can cause nausea and general malaise, in order to extend her life.

"Chemo was out of the question right away," Mrs. Mann told Baltimore Magazine in a 2009 interview. "Would it be different if I had felt like I was dying? Maybe. But I had no symptoms. Other than shortness of breath, I didn't feel sick."

With the help of her daughter, Louise Weeks Weadock Rowe, a registered nurse who lives in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Mrs. Mann drew up a list of adventures she wished to do - one every four to six weeks - during the waning days of her life.

Mrs. Mann told Baltimore Magazine that she was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who portrayed two terminally ill patients in the 2007 movie "The Bucket List."

When her daughter mentioned that she had recently gone hang gliding, Mrs. Mann put that on her list and then quickly added sky diving.

The magazine observed that Mrs. Mann's "carpe diem attitude" was nothing new, and not long before receiving her cancer diagnosis, she had gone gorge-swinging "over the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls in Africa and swimming with great white sharks near Cape Town, South Africa."

When Mrs. Mann embarked on one of her adventures, she took along a retinue that included her four children, four grandchildren and several friends.

After she went hang gliding at a field in Middletown, N.Y., and recalled in the magazine profile that she rose to an altitude of 4,000 feet, she described the experience as "very peaceful, very birdlike."

She traveled to Marineland, Fla., where she swam with dolphins; jumped out of an airplane at the Skydive Center in Titusville, Fla., and sky-dived 3 miles back to earth; and took a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon, a hot-air balloon ascension and an all-terrain vehicle ride over and through the desert at Sedona, Ariz.

Mrs. Mann's last adventure was on Jan. 23, when she traveled to the Poconos to go dog sledding.

Late last summer, her end-of-life journey came to the attention of the producers of CBS' "The Early Show," which began airing "bucket" segments in September, narrated by Maggie Rodriguez, the news show's co-host.

In addition to being known as the "Daredevil Granny," Mrs. Mann was also known to millions of viewers as "Super Susie." They followed her exploits on CBS, in newspapers and magazines, and through her Web site, supersusiebucketlist.com.

At the end of the year, Mrs. Mann was still thinking up outdoor challenges and had added snorkeling and white-water rafting to her wish list.

"So, at 6:15 p.m. 2/15/10; without fanfare and with so much grace ... Sewall Boardman Weeks Weadock Mann set out on a new adventure taking her last leap without a kite or a parachute," her daughter wrote on her mother's Web site.

The day after her death, CBS aired a tribute to Mrs. Mann.

She was born Sewall "Susie" Weeks, the daughter of John Kirkland Weeks, a stockbroker and umpire at the U.S. Open tennis championships, and Geraldine H. Boardman, an accomplished Madison Square Garden equestrian, in New York City.

She was raised on the Upper East Side and in Southampton, where in her youth she played tennis and learned to ride horses.

She was a 1948 graduate of Oldfields School in Glencoe.

After having to give up tennis at 46 because of a knee injury, Mrs. Mann refused to abandon her interest in athletics.

"Her response was to dive into a swimming pool and become a Senior Olympics gold medal winner," her son said.

Mrs. Mann, who had lived in Timonium for many years, never lost her enthusiasm for life and living, and was fearless when it came to dying.

"Dying is just another part of living," she said in the magazine article that was published in December. "If I have a message, it is to live life to the fullest and enjoy."

She donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board.

A memorial Mass was offered Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mount Washington.

Also surviving are two other sons, Michael P. Weadock of Parkton and John Cullen Weadock III of West Melbourne, Fla.; a brother, Kirkland Weeks of Augusta, Ga.; and her four grandchildren. Marriages to John Cullen Weadock and Drennin B. Mann ended in divorce.

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