On Saturday, we got the sad news that Sybil Sullivan, my friend and former co-worker at the Petaluma Visitors Program, passed away on Friday night in Washington State with her only son at her side. Born on October 13, 1918, Sybil was exactly 97 years and 7 months old when she passed.
Achieving that kind of longevity is a pretty amazing achievement on its own and it is certainly worth honoring. But it isn’t just the fact that Sybil lived a long life that is an inspiration to me. It’s the way she lived her 97 years.
To give you a little background on Sybil, she taught school for many years at McKinley Elementary in Petaluma. When she retired at age 70, she began her second career at the Petaluma Visitors Program where she graciously welcomed visitors and enthusiastically shared her knowledge of Petaluma and Sonoma County for 25 years until at age 95, she felt that her physical limitations were hindering her ability to do her job.
We had a wonderful retirement party for her; she was so beloved by everyone at the PVP and so many other organizations throughout the city, that it was pure joy to help coordinate the party. The mayor came and was part of dedicating one of the benches outside the Visitors Center with an engraved plaque in honor of Sybil’s 25 years of service.
What was it about Sybil that I will keep with me forever? I have never met anyone with a more naturally curious mind. She was the epitome of a life-long learner, always wanting to dig deeper to understand the world around her…politics, geography, music, literature…she would hear something on the radio that sparked her interest and she was always hungry to learn more.
Sybil was ageless. When I spent time with her, we chatted as if we were high school friends. We could pick up the conversation just where we left off. But she also had the graciousness of someone who was raised in a different and very tough time. I remember her telling me that during the depression she worked six days a week and earned 35 cents an hour. But yet, she persevered and got a college degree; not the path that most young women took in the 1930s.
As I’ve thought about her over the years, if there were a Sybil Sullivan brand, it would be “Small but Mighty.” Mighty intelligence, mighty knowledge and mighty strength in her petite size. Sybil, thank you for the privilege of being your friend. I will miss you.