Year in Sports

Year in Sports: Rising up: Syracuse community supports Sue Edson, family in wake of Rob’s death

The reminders of Rob Edson are everywhere. For Sue and children Thomas, 15, and Tracey, 12, they come in the form of gifts.

More than 1,100 cards from friends and family, co-workers and athletes, neighbors and strangers. A football signed by the 2013 Syracuse football team. A memorialized Onondaga Community College No. 1 jersey presented to the family at Rob’s funeral.

Framed photos and personalized messages. The list goes on.

“Obviously it’s not going to change, he’s not coming back,” Sue said, “but I still — sometimes it doesn’t feel like this is permanent.”

For a family still fully entwined in SU Athletics, where Rob worked for 21 years before becoming the athletic director at OCC, the academic year has been filled with gestures. And for Sue, who continues working as the associate athletics director of SU Athletics communications, compartmentalizing life has become difficult. Rob died at the age of 45 in September of an apparent heart attack.

With the outcropping of support comes jolts of unexpected sorrow.

The community she works with is the same community Rob worked with. Her friends were his friends.

“It’s like a blessing and a curse at the same time,” said Jeanne Albanese, a close friend of Sue. “Rob and Sue were SU. Now, it’s Sue and SU.”

***

Each time Sue came home or glanced onto the porch of her Jamesville home during the first two weeks after Rob’s passing, there was another gift.

From packs of Gatorade to pre-cooked dinners, boxes of tissues to floral arrangements, it seemed the entire Syracuse community was there to lift up the family.

And inside the house, visitors cycled through just as quickly.

“You joke about it like, ‘Who are all these people?’” Albanese said, “but that’s just how Sue is. She’d always reach out to people. So would Rob.

“And in her greatest time of need, it all came back to her.”

Albanese, Sue’s mother Carol Corner and the “Sunday night dinner crew” — family friends Amy and Fred Harle, Kristen Montas Graves and Fred Graves and SU Athletics assistant director of communications Susie Mehringer — spearheaded the support in the first couple weeks after Rob’s death.

Corner lived with the family in that time.

“It was just so incredibly hard to believe that she was going to have to go through this at such a young age,” Corner said. “And that the kids were going to have to go through life without their dad.”

In the first few days without Rob, each friend picked up some of Sue’s responsibilities. Albanese handled the obituary. Carrier Dome managing director Pete Sala took care of communications with OCC. Montas Graves and other friends reached out to Tiffany Steinwert, dean of Hendricks Chapel.

Mehringer fielded email after email at SU Athletics, responding to people looking to help.

“They were almost chomping at the bit. They just wanted so badly to be able to do something to help,” Mehringer said. “And unfortunately there really wasn’t much that we could do.

“The one thing that was going to make it better was the one thing that none of us could do — and that was bring Rob back.”

***

Eighteen rows and three balconies worth of supporters came to Rob’s memorial service Thursday, Sept. 19, five days after he died.

And on the following Saturday, the SU football team, which Sue works directly with, dedicated its game against Tulane to the Edson family.

SU Athletics officials wore Rob’s trademark sweater vests and an honorary “RE” was painted on the sideline where he normally stood.

And Syracuse fullback Clay Cleveland delivered the most surprising gift of the day.

Cleveland knelt in the end zone before the game, said a prayer for Rob and told him he would meet him in that same spot again during the game.

With 3:21 left in the first quarter, he did just that. In the third quarter, he scored again.

The first, and only, two scores of his career.

“Sue Edson means a lot to us,” Cleveland said after the game. “I never met Rob personally, but we were at the funeral. We were all so moved. This is for them.”

After the game, the team signed a ball for Sue. And when she got home from Thomas’ lacrosse game that afternoon, she caught the end of the television broadcast featuring her, Rob and their family.

At the first Sunday dinner without Rob at the end of that week, the group converged at Amy’s cousin’s house.

Montas Graves said it helped for Sue that Rob had never been there before. But for Sue, having to sit rather than cook and clean was difficult.

Together, they told stories about Rob. Tears turned into laughter.

“We just knew she needed us around her,” Montas Graves said.

***

Then began Sue’s first week back at work.

While the tributes for Rob were ongoing and every day, life for her, Thomas and Tracey was changing.

Two cars turned to one. Getting the kids to their athletic events became more complicated. The workload piled up for Sue, who — while appreciative of all the support — was not going to let other people run her life.

“She lost a lot of weight and you could always see that she wasn’t sleeping well,” Montas Graves said, “because she continued to try to do everything.”

During the Clemson walk through that week, when Sue stepped next to the ‘RE’ for the fist time, emotion came over her.

“When I say hard, it just hits you,” Sue said, “and you’re trying to keep yourself composed to handle what you’re supposed to be handling. When things come at me and I’m not ready for them, it’s hard to keep it together.”
From there, it was the timely gestures that resonated with her, though she said she’s received some kind of correspondence about Rob in all but about 10 days since his passing.

Sala and the athletic department bought and decorated a Christmas tree for her and the kids and set it up in the family’s hotel room at the Texas Bowl in Houston. It was their first Christmas without Rob.

A Carrier Dome concessions employee purchased a table for Sue at the SU men’s basketball Hardwood Banquet on March 10 for $800 so she could bring friends. Rob was posthumously awarded the Vic Hanson Medal of Excellence, given to an individual with ties to the team, while making outstanding contributions to college basketball.

“Honestly, sometimes I’ll do a Twitter search (for #RiseUpForRob) and I’m surprised that there are multiple tweets that I didn’t know about,” Sue said, “and that people are still thinking about him.”

***

Last Thursday, the latest tribute came in the form of a memorial unveiling in OCC’s SRC Arena. Across from the Hall of Fame wall, Rob’s picture was immortalized in front of friends, family and athletic officials.

After OCC senior vice president David Murphy closed the ceremony, Sue held long hugs with each of her children. Soon after, another “RE” logo debuted — this time at the school’s new baseball and softball field.

“Maybe it’s not what I didn’t know about Rob, those specific things,” Sue said, “but the number of people he touched.”

The memories will keep coming. Sue still has plenty of cards to read, and thank-you cards to write. She still tends to the plants that were given to her for a half hour every week. And those are just the reminders that don’t follow her to and from work every day.

With each one comes the feeling of support, of love. But so too comes grief.

Said Sue: “I’d give it all back in a minute, in a second to have Rob here. Every bit of everything. Do whatever I had to do.”

Top Stories

Remembrance Week 2014

Coming full circle

When John Tummino arrived at the first meeting for this year’s Remembrance Scholars in August, he brought a Notre Dame hat that he got from his third-cousin, Wendy Giebler-Sefcik. But, it was not just any hat. Read more »