She was the ’linchpin’ of our group

On February 14, 2012, The Campbell Family Breast Cancer Research Institute lost one of their most beloved scientists, Dr. Susan McCracken.  She died suddenly of a heart condition at the age of 57.  She was described by Dr. Tak Mak, Director of the Institute, as the ‘linchpin’ of the group, who always made herself available to mentor and help young researchers, and to support the work of the many principal investigators in the lab.  She was a devoted scientist with an excellent command of the language which made her a huge asset in a busy research environment which published at least two major papers per month and prepared many grant applications.

Each September, ‘Suz’, as her friends called her, joined her fellow scientists from the Institute in front of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to cheer and encourage the thousands of participants in The Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women’s Cancers.  She had planned to join the LaBRAtory Ladies and Lads and walk in the 2012 Weekend.  Instead, her husband, sister and two daughters joined the team and walked in her memory.

From the Globe and Mail

Everyone who knew Susan McCracken said she was smart. As a biochemistry undergraduate at McGill University, Suz had a grade point average of 3.94 out of 4, and her PhD thesis made the Dean’s List.

Her first employer, a small U.S. biotech company near Washington, was forced to lay off Suz’s entire division, but kept her because of her skill in the laboratory and strong work ethic.

When her husband, Andy Bognar, got a faculty position at the University of Toronto, she went along with no pressing regard for her own career. She became a research associate in some of the top labs at the university. In 1997, she was first author of a paper on how genes are translated into proteins. Published in Nature, it was at the forefront of scientific research.

Suz’s last position was in Dr. Tak Mak’s lab at the Campbell Family Institute of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, which targets new approaches to fighting women’s cancers. She always made time to empathize with, mentor and help her fellow researchers. Among her duties was to write papers and grant applications with her boss, one of the foremost scientists in the world. This was done to strict deadlines and in the fields of immunology and cancer research, in which she had little previous background. No wonder she was always humming the reggae song “Pressure drop, O pressure, pressure gonna drop on you.”

Dr. Mak describes Suz as “the linchpin of our group, always with her finger on the pulse of every research stream in the lab and always ready to be my right arm in planning the next steps. Susan had the rare combination of keen intelligence and endless patience, coupled with a fierce perseverance and the selfless willingness to take on many thankless, but necessary tasks.”

Suz had the same dedication to her family. In 1987, she donated a kidney to her brother Peter, allowing him to devote the next 20 years to community-based geriatric programs in Edmonton. She seemed to know her daughters better than they knew themselves and gently steered them in the right direction. In 32 years of marriage, Suz never reminded Andy of his shortcomings.

Suz believed the big feelings expressed in opera made your own problems seem less. She particularly liked Rigoletto. Andy thought Rigoletto was a jerk, but now understands the sorrow of a man whose greatest treasure is taken from him.

Each September, from the steps of the Campbell Family Institute, Suz would high-five the participants in the annual Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women’s Cancers, which benefits Princess Margaret Hospital. She was registered to walk this year, but died on Valentine’s Day of a rare and undiagnosed heart condition. Her daughters, Miranda and Madeleine, and other family members will walk in her place.

Suz was a gift to all who knew her. By getting involved in the walk, others will continue her hopes and dreams.

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