In Memory

Susanne Rockwell (Sway)

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22/02/18 01:43 PM #1    

Marilyn Oliver (Lagier)

I am so sorry to hear about Susanne.  At the 45th, she and I were just dancing away, laughing, talking Davis (where she lived and I used to live), remembering all sorts of strange stuff.  We were both looking forward to the 50th.  I met her when we Juniper kids were sent back to Cypress School for 6th grade.  I will miss Susanne.   Marilyn (Oliver) Lagier



23/02/18 04:12 PM #2    

John Ashbaugh

I have been thinking a lot about Susanne Rockwell (Sway) the last few days. I recall that she was always one of those “gentle souls” that inspired us all. She had a sharp wit but never used it to “dis” anybody – just to point out the irony of our circumstances and the challenge of the directions we were taken. Her smile was huge and her laugh was infectious. 

Susanne's career in journalism and in University administration suggests that she was one of the leading products of our Class of ’70, adding value to every organization she joined. I only wish that I’d stayed in touch with her more, and gotten to know her family in Davis.

My deepest sympathies to Brian Sway and to their daughters. We all share this loss and I for one shall use it as a chance to reflect on the fragility of life.


John Ashbaugh. 

24/02/18 07:53 AM #3    

David Anderson

Friends and family are mourning the loss of Susanne Rockwell, 65, a former Sacramento-area journalist turned vibrant public relations professional who helped pioneer the use of social media at UC Davis. She died unexpectedly Feb. 19, 2018, at her Davis home from complications of throat cancer.

A celebration of her life is planned for 2 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at Davis Community Church, 421 D St.

Rockwell was well loved by many friends and colleagues, both on the UC Davis campus and in many social and service groups in Yolo County.

“In so many ways she was the glue of our communications office family and a community-builder in so many ever-widening circles,” said Maril Stratton, associate chancellor emerita and former head of the campus Public Communications office.

“The campus benefited enormously from her principled practice of community journalism, her recognition — and artful telling — of a darn good story, and her demonstration of just how big a heart, kind a soul and irrepressible a spirit one person can possess,” Stratton said.

Born in Roseville, Rockwell spent most of her childhood in Redding near Lake Shasta and the Sacramento River, where she developed a love for Northern California and its environmental riches.

She graduated from Shasta High School and entered UC Davis in 1970. She signed on as a writer for The California Aggie, UC Davis’ student newspaper, where she met her future husband, Brian Sway. They married on April 10, 1976.

During her junior year, she studied in Spain, an experience that ignited a lifelong passion for travel and an appreciation for learning foreign languages. When her daughters reached school age, she made sure that they were enrolled in Davis’ Spanish immersion program.

She earned two degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor’s (1974) in international relations and a master’s (1996) in rhetoric and communications.

As a young journalist, Rockwell first found employment as assistant editor at the Winters Express, where she worked until 1976. She then joined The (Vacaville) Reporter, working there until 1983, when she was hired to manage a staff of 15 writers as the assistant “Showcase” editor at The Sacramento Union, then one of Sacramento’s two daily newspapers.

During her years in newspapering, she was active in the Society of Professional Journalists, serving several years on the local chapter’s governing board.

In 1989, she joined the UC Davis Public Communications office as editor of Dateline, the staff and faculty newspaper. She served in that role until 2000, when she was appointed to develop and edit the campus’ main website, while also providing communications services to the College of Letters & Science.

Colleagues recall that Rockwell was a fearless early adopter of social media and multimedia, evolving from a comfortable position as an expert print journalist to a far more challenging one as a new practitioner of online journalism. She bridged the sometimes-enormous gap between web developers and information specialists with patience and good humor. She was a leader in helping the university use new media to enhance student safety and strengthen overall communications with its broader audiences.

Most recently, Rockwell launched a new What Can I Do With My Major blog for UC Davis, drawing input from the campus community to help students envision the wide array of career options available in various areas of study. Now, just 10 months after its debut, the blog has a robust readership around the world.

Still promoting her love and esteem for communicators, Rockwell coordinated the current posting titled “How UC Davis Undergraduates Can Become Journalists,” written by a UCD alumna now attending the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

In addition to her campus duties, Rockwell always made time to share her experience, including working with the Campus Rotaract clubs at UCD and at local high schools to provide opportunities for student internships and career training. She also served as a resource and speaker for career days at schools in Woodland.

“Students and their experiences here were always Susanne’s priority,” said Dana Topousis, chief marketing and communications officer who leads what is now called the Office of Strategic Communications at UCD.

“She touched so many people at UC Davis through her passion for writing and telling stories. She was often the first to want to learn something — like web development and social media — and then the first to advocate for being innovative.

“On a personal level, Susanne made deep connections with people and never hesitated to share a kind word about a colleague,” Topousis added. “To say we will miss her is an understatement. We will honor her memory and carry her legacy forward.”

Rockwell also had an abiding commitment to fostering diversity and accessibility in the campus community. In 1998, she received a UC Davis diversity award for “being ever vigilant in her search for stories” to reflect the variety of people who are critical to the success of the campus.

In 2006, she was honored by UC Davis’ Soaring to New Heights diversity program for her role in redesigning campus web sites to make them easier to use by people with visual impairments. She also was an early champion of nonsexist language in communications.

Colleagues note that Rockwell was for nearly three decades the social anchor for her campus department. Even during tumultuous times, she insisted that the university communications group was “family,” and made sure that newcomers were welcomed and veteran staffers acknowledged. She wrote countless, unsolicited award nominations, intent that colleagues receive recognition on campus and through professional organizations.

Rockwell’s daughters Meagan and Julia said she felt it was important to take on challenges outside of her comfort zone. Although she never thought of herself as an athlete or serious runner, in 1999 she enrolled in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program and successfully completed Sacramento’s California International Marathon.

Rockwell and her husband Brian, even while juggling the joys and demands of parenting their two daughters, were tireless hosts, generously opening their home for community fundraising events as well as office retreats, holiday celebrations and retirement parties.

In addition to campus participation, Rockwell was active in the community, especially through the Sunrise Rotary Club of Davis, where she served as president in 2013-14. Over the years, she and her husband welcomed seven high school exchange students from Europe, South America and Japan into their home through Rotary Club.

Keenly interested in supporting wildlife and Yolo County wetland habitats, Rockwell also served for eight years on the Yolo Basin Foundation board.

She is survived by her husband Brian Sway of Davis; daughter Julia Sway and son-in-law Matthew Simpson of Portland, Maine; and daughter Meagan Sway and son-in-law Sage Friedman of Portland, Maine. She also leaves her brother Robin and sister-in-law Lori Rockwell of Scotts Valley; brother and sister-in-law Andy and Jan Sway of Burbank; sister-in-law Caren Sway of Valencia; and nephews Matthew Rockwell of Scotts Valley, David (and wife Misha) Sway and Daniel Sway of Los Angeles, and Michael Branstetter (and wife Jenna) of Ventura.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Helen Rockwell and Jerry Rockwell, and a brother, Scott Rockwell.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Yolo Basin Foundation, 45211 County Road 32B, Davis CA 95618; the Davis Sunrise Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 4531, Davis, CA 95617; or the UC Davis Foundation, 1 Shields Ave., Davis CA 95616-5270.

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