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Tribute to Renate

Munich cathedral burials
Tomb sculpture in Munich, Germany, Cathedral of Our Dear Lady. Photo by Charlene Edge while visiting Germany, 2012.

Life is shorter than we think. That’s cliché, I know, but clichés are clichés for a reason. They carry a truth. Have you ever had a new friend that you wished, after you discovered they must soon move away, that you’d spent more time with? Have you fallen into the habit of expecting your friends to always be there? Do you, like me, find yourself getting used to people being in your life and so you get lax about making an effort to visit or call? Recently, I experienced this with my “new” friend, Renate. She had to leave abruptly, it seemed to me, although if I had paid closer attention I might have seen the journey coming.

Renate Sutton

Renate Haas Sutton was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1937. She was almost old enough to be my mother, yet in her kind and gentle presence, I felt more like her peer. I met Renate in 2007 after I quit my day job in the software industry (after nearly 10 years) to write my memoir. But I’m getting ahead of the story …

The Rollins Women’s Association

Every month, the Rollins Women’s Association (RWA) meets for lunch at a restaurant near my house. In 2007 after I quit my proposal writing job in Lake Mary, Florida, at the software company, I was invited to join the monthly RWA luncheon phenomenon. What “qualified” me was that in 2002 I married a Rollins College professor, Dr. Hoyt Edge, who taught Philosophy at Rollins from the ripe old age of 25 (right out of grad school at Vanderbilt) until retirement in May 2014. We had traveled the world for years and after stops and starts with my book writing, we agreed in 2007 that I could leave my day job (yes, I know how lucky I am!) and finish the book that kept bugging me to write it, now titled, Undertow. Enter, Renate.

At one of my first RWA meetings/lunches, I met Renate among the women who are either retired Rollins faculty, faculty wives or ex-wives, or retired Rollins staff members. The group is a mainstay of my continuing education. Their loyalty and support of one another is a tribute to love and friendship. How did I have the joy of being among them? Because of Hoyt, first of all. But also because the lovely Janne Lane, spouse of retired History professor, Dr. Jack Lane, called me up and offered me a place at that welcoming table.

A friend from afar

One day at the RWA luncheon, I sat across from Renate at the table that accommodated about a dozen of us. Hoyt and I had recently returned from a trip to Germany, so at lunch I talked about it with Renate, knowing she was from that country. She told me she’d been born in Germany but after WWII the Russians commanded her father, an engineer, to work in Russia. The family had to move there; she learned to speak the language. After Stalin died, they were allowed to return to East Berlin. Later, they escaped to Munich.

It amazes me the lives that people live. No doubt I admired her even more after hearing that story. Before that day, likely unknown to Renate, she’d been a dear support to me. She and her husband, Larry, among RWA friends and others, had sent emails to me in 2009 while Hoyt and I traveled for 4 1/2 months around the world. They replied to the short travel reports I sent, first from New Zealand, and then as we continued to Australia, Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, and Tibet (that trip may be the subject of another book). During the two months we stayed in Bali, I will never forget the surprises in my Inbox. From the other side of the planet—literally, Bali’s time zone is a 12-hour difference—appeared notes, as if by magic, often from Larry and Renate sending hometown love.

One time Larry wrote snippets of memories about his times abroad, along with good wishes for our continued safe travels. Although I’d never met him, he provided comradery through his generous stories. I was so eager to read anything in English that he could have written weather reports, and I would have been thrilled. Those emails eased the homesickness I often felt being so far away …

Salmon, kale, and I wish there were more

Some years later at another RWA luncheon, Renate and I sat next to each other. She was a quiet but observant woman whose gentleness drew me to her like a restful reservoir. I knew she held secrets. I felt her history had imposed power and shaped her. Not one to talk about herself much, Renate usually let others initiate a conversation. That day I asked her about recipes she liked. The one she shared was for steamed salmon and kale.

I wish I’d asked Renate more questions.

Last Saturday, Hoyt and I attended Renate’s memorial service. That was the day I finally met my correspondent friend, her husband Larry, for the first time. A beautiful event, with moving stories about Renate’s strength, courage, and good cooking, the service brought to mind those notes of friendship she and Larry sent when I’d felt lonely sometimes on the other side of the world. Cheers to a woman I’ll never forget.

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15 Responses

  1. Roz
    | Reply

    Wonderful, sensitive essay, Charlene. Not just about Renate but about friendship and kindness. Thanks for this.

    • Ann
      | Reply

      I was feeling sorry for myself, doing 2 hours of yard work before coming in for breakfast (my garden helper just had foot surgery and I have no idea when I’ll see her again). And the first thing I saw was your blog. What a restorer. What a gem. Ditto Roz’s remarks. I’m so glad YOU are a friend. Many many thanks, Charlene.

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      My pleasure. It’s an honor to have such friends in RWA!

  2. Kate Reich
    | Reply

    Thank you for this. I have known Renate since 1971, we were always friendly, but rarely spoke about our past. I too grew up in Berlin, 10 years older than Renate. My father was a pilot and we moved all over the place. At the end of the war, in Leipzig, he was lucky to be taken prisoner by the Americans, The Russians were after him too, so we were relieved he went West. Few of the people who were taken by the Russians were ever heard of again. Renate’s father was very lucky. We were in the Russian Zone and had to leave everything. The French flew my father and mother out of Berlin, I stayed behind in Leipzig, where I was enrolled at the University. When the time was right, I went through the heavily guarded border an d reunited with my parents and enrolled at the University in Mainz, where Renate also went.

    I was surprised to learn how parallel our lives had been, Once you met Renate, her quiet comfortable, personality drew to her. All of us at the RWA were so happy when she came to her last meeting. Little did we know, that she would have a relapse.. of her cruel illness. She leaves a large void among all of us. As Larry set, her ship sailed off into the unknown, leaving a void among us, but we will never forget her,

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      Kate, thank you so much for sharing some of your story here with us. Your love for Renate shines through.

  3. Susan Lilley
    | Reply

    Beautiful tribute, Charlene. Special friends can have a lasting and wonderful effect, even after they leave us.

  4. Janne
    | Reply

    This is a lovely tribute, Charlene. You have captured the beautiful essence of Renate to which we all can relate. As we move forward to enjoy more Rollins luncheons her presence will always be with is in spirit thanks to the memories of friends like you. Thanks for being our good friend.

  5. Louise Borsoi
    | Reply

    Oh, Charlene, you have written such a beautiful homily to our Renate. Myra did too at Renate’s funeral last Saturday. I think we all admired her participation even when she really was ill. She came even when she could not eat! I think she knew we all shared in her distress but always she and we danced our enveloping ring of friendship to show our soludarity with her in spite of her impending demise. We all will remember her as the beautiful poised blond lady with the quiet smile and twinkling eyes.

  6. Robyn
    | Reply

    Lovely tribute, Charlene. I echo others’ comments about your reflections on friendships and simple acts of thoughtfulness. Ditto Susan. so true. Thank you, love.

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      There’s an old saying about not letting the weeds grow on the path to your friend’s door. Love that.

  7. Larry Sutton
    | Reply

    I read your lovely tribute to Renate when you posted it, but reading it again, it is so filled with your beautiful friendship for both of us. The response of so many RWA members is also the candle that burns bright. Looking forward to reading Undertow. With loving thanks, Larry.

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      Dear Larry,
      Always a pleasure to hear from you. I’m honored to offer my tribute to your wonderful wife.
      All the best,
      Charlene

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