Cape Cod lost a powerful leader last week, and I lost a dear friend and colleague. Susan L. Quinones, Esq., who was coordinator for the Barnstable County Human Rights Advisory Commission, succumbed to a rapidly progressing malignancy that put her in hospice care for her last days.
Less than a month before, she had run a particularly energized and effective monthly meeting, one that prompted me to send a message of congratulations. There’s a reminder in this about communicating with those we work with and sometimes take for granted.
I met Susan years ago when she was hired by the county for her first term as coordinator. She was so easy to talk to that, right away, I invited her to come out to Provincetown for a day, to get my guided tour.
At the time, I had no idea of her exceptional credentials. Later I learned that she grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, then moved to New York for college at William Smith and a degree in art history. She earned a law degree at Georgetown, then practiced in New York before bringing her talents to Massachusetts. She was motivated to work in the public sector here by the election of Gov. Deval Patrick.
As chief of staff, she helped reshape the state’s Dept. of Transportation. Her former colleagues there are now remembering her as “an inspiration,” “a team leader,” “our rudder.” Here, I know she truly inspired those she worked with to call up their best efforts. And she did so with such grace and kindness.
Her tenure was not easy. A certain county commissioner at the time, who was not inclined toward much consideration of human rights issues, made her working environment chronically difficult. She left the role, but former County Administrator Jack Yunits brought her back.
She joined a Human Rights Commission that had been reformulated as “advisory,” and she threw herself into making it work.
One remarkable effort that Quinones fostered was a series of conversations with police chiefs following the murder of George Floyd. Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson worked with her, and they shaped a useful discussion series. I’m told he has already committed to the continuation of this dialogue, in Susan’s memory.
In our recent last conversation, we discussed human rights and health equity. And we talked about the early days of the Covid pandemic, when commission members reached out to the Brazilian and Latino populations of the mid Cape, through their churches, to promote immunization. It was a public health effort that mattered. Susan recognized the tremendous potential of community outreach and engagement.
I traveled recently to Puerto Rico, Susan’s lovely island. Although she left us before I returned home, she did live long enough to savor the fulfillment of her last great wish — the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
For everyone who lives on or visits Cape Cod, the momentum for protecting human rights, which Susan Quinones fostered so energetically and so lovingly, is at risk. It will take a very good person and a true leader to fill her shoes. Someone who can inspire others by their example and their willingness to listen. Remembering Susan, I have faith that such people are among us.
Brian O’Malley, M.D., is Provincetown’s elected delegate to the Barnstable County Assembly. Write him at [email protected].