Suzanne Louis, Fulbright alumna and team member at the Fulbright Finland Foundation in Helsinki, Finland, passed away on July 8, 2020 in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was 71.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Suzanne came to Finland for the first time in 1991 to attend a conference. She was immediately “hooked,” as she described it herself, and afterwards traveled to Finland repeatedly on holiday and on business. In 2001 she came on a Fulbright Finland Foundation Mid-Career Professional Development grant to what is now Aalto University to work on a professional project at their International Office. Five years later she retired from her position at the University of Virginia in order to become Project Consultant at the Foundation. For nearly 15 years, until the time of her death, she served in her highly impactful, volunteer position at the Foundation, and spent as much time in Finland as she could, enjoying nature, architecture, opera, ballet, concerts, and the rich cultural life.
Suzanne attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she received her bachelor’s degree, and went on to achieve a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Architectural History at the University of Virginia. The time studying cultural anthropology led her to study Mandarin Chinese, and then spend a year teaching and studying in Taiwan, before embarking on a successful career in international educational exchange. Suzanne worked at the University of Virginia as Associate Director of International Student and Scholar programs, and later, as Director of the International Center. This provided her with a unique expertise for her later work at the Fulbright Finland Foundation where she served as a consultant in intercultural programming, an adviser on Finnish-American university collaboration, and an expert in the development of alumni programs and advancement.
Passionate about intercultural understanding and the value of international experience, she was dedicated to the Foundation’s vision and served as a driving force behind several major initiatives in the area of advancement and alumni relations. In 2007 she helped found the Foundation’s alumni network in the United States, the Friends of Fulbright Finland (FoFF), that now engages over 700 former grantees in the U.S. with continuously growing programs. She envisioned and helped found the FoFF Alumni Enrichment Fund that awards grants to U.S. alumni for return visits to Finland to renew and expand their original Fulbright projects. She also helped the Foundation to launch its major fundraising effort to build the Fulbright Finland Centennial Fund – an endowment that supports grants for both Finns and Americans.
Suzanne epitomized the fundamental ideals of the Fulbright program: intercultural understanding and peace. And she believed that by working together individuals can make a difference and change communities and societies for the better.
Her personality was a combination of kindness and grace. At the same time, she was an individual with immense inner strength – quiet strength that was characterized with a rare persistence, a definite dose of Finnish “sisu.” Suzanne moved mountains, kindly and quietly, behind the scenes – and never mentioned her accomplishments.
We have lost our dear friend, a colleague, and an advisor, and it is difficult to even begin to describe the magnitude of the loss. Suzanne will be greatly missed by the entire Fulbright Finland community and by the many friends she made here in Finland, in the U.S., and on her travels around the world.
Although she knew that she was seriously ill, she was dedicated to continuing her FoFF work as long and with as much vigor as she could. She said it brought her great joy to continue to meet and engage with alumni and to see the community grow and develop.
Suzanne’s life was characterized by kindness and generosity. The best way for us to honor her and her legacy is to pass it forward.
In loving memory of Suz.
Terhi Mölsä, CEO, Fulbright Finland Foundation