Longtime Signal Mountain environmental and community activist Susan Robertson, chosen early in 2007 to serve as one of the town’s five city council members, died Friday in Memorial Hospital.
An ardent environmentalist and believer in open government, Mrs. Robertson’s appointment to the council came just months after two prior members had been recalled by voters angry over their decision to rezone the Shackleford Ridge area to allow 1/3 acre lots.
Before long, she and fellow fledgling council member Annette Allen had plunged headfirst in their new responsibilities.
“It’s difficult to overstate how hard Susan worked on the council,” according to Mrs.
“A talented writer, Susan drafted copy for the town’s website, helped staff write the personnel manual and drafted dozens of resolutions and ordinances,” she recalled. Further, Mrs. Mrs. Robertson helped create a new Signal Mountain Tree Board, and fought for conservation of the town’s green spaces.
Mrs. Robertson’s commitment to open government, according to Mrs. Allen, inspired her to also create “Council Notes,” a weekly column aimed at keeping the community engaged in what its government was doing.
In the column she detailed issues coming up before both the town council and the planning commission, outlined actions taken by the council and alerted readers to upcoming town events.
“Susan cared deeply about her town and fought tirelessly to maintain its character before, during and after her service on the town council,” Mrs. Allen noted. “The countless hours Susan gave the town created a model for government transparency and thoughtful decision-making based on community input.
Former Mayor Bill Lusk, who also served with her on the council, remembered her working tirelessly for the community.
"She was instrumental in revising and rewriting town code that was outdated and, often, inaccurate," he said. "She was a driving force behind the preservation of our public lands, while working always to improve the quality of life in out community."
"Susan takes with her an institutional knowledge that will be impossible to replicate," he concluded. "RIP, Susan Robertson."
Similar sentiments were echoed by longtime allies such as Barbara Womack, a founding member and current vice chair of the tree board.
“Susan was a champion of the environment,” Mrs. Womack said. “She co-founded the Signal Mountain Tree Board that has protected hemlocks on public and private property. (Also) when she was on the town council she played a large role in preserving town parks by helping to place them in a conservation easement.”
Over the years her hard work was noted and widely supported, In 2010, for example, when she was seeking a second term on the council, numerous letters to the editor backing her candidacy appeared in local newspapers.
“Let’s keep Susan Robertson on the town council in Signal Mountain, ”began a letter written by Charles Poss -- now the town's mayor.
“While serving on the town council Susan worked morning, noon and night to improve the town and benefit its residents,” the future mayor wrote. “And while she worked longer hours than many of us do at our own jobs, she did this for a job that pays her no salary.
“Susan is dedicated to serving Signal Mountain with integrity,” the letter continued. “She makes sure the public is well informed about important issues facing our town, and she listens to the public’s opinions in formulating her own well-reasoned decisions. She will not shy away from a tough issue.”
Born Aug. 10, 1946, in Louisiana where her decorated-fighter-pilot father was serving at Barksdale Air Force Base, Mrs. Robertson never really had a hometown during her childhood. Her father’s military career kept the family crisscrossing the country, from Texas to Ohio to Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., as he was transferred from place to place.
As an adult, however, she put down deep roots.
In 1976 she and her husband, Jerry, moved to Signal Mountain after he began working in TVA’s nuclear program.
The move was permanent.
Mrs. Robertson – a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a BA in English, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, -- was soon teaching English at Signal Mountain Junior High. Later, she became an adjunct instructor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
She went on to earn a Master in Fine Arts in writing from Vermont College in 1985, and to publish a variety of fiction and nonfiction works.
Another interest, antiques, led her to eventually become owner-operator of Susan Robertson and Crew. “We are a small estate sale company that offers on-site sales and consignment services,” the business’s website explained. “We are also certified personal property appraisers.”