Dr. Susan M. Gatto of South Wellfleet died peacefully at home on May 10, 2023 after a prolonged bout with cancer. She was 76.
The daughter of Charles and Mercedes Brown, Susan was born on Nov. 23, 1946 in Teaneck, N.J. She spent her early years there until her family bought the Topside Cottages in North Truro in the early 1950s.
One family story that has survived from her childhood concerns the summer when she decided she did not want to be a girl, her son Kevin said. She created an alias, Billy Brown, cut her hair short, and, when meeting other kids, introduced herself as Billy.
After high school, Sue attended Cape Cod Community College and Bridgewater State University before earning a doctorate from New York Chiropractic College in 1986. Soon after, she established Blackfish Creek Chiropractic Clinic. Her many patients called her “Doc.” She retired in 2015.
Sue, whose mother operated a dance school in New Jersey, continued that family tradition by teaching barefoot folk dancing for a week each year at Pinewoods Music and Dance Camp in Plymouth.
“My mom worked hard at whatever she took on,” Kevin said. At the beaches near the cottages, she could be found sitting with successive generations of kids showing them beach critters, shells, and, of course, how to dribble sandcastles.
The most rewarding nine years of her life, according to Kevin, were the ones she worked as an aide to John Knight at the Clinical Teaching Center at Marconi. John also taught her how to work in stained glass.
Sue “was the greenest person I’ve ever known,” said Kevin. “She reused anything and everything.” Once, Kevin recalled, she laid a black mat out in the sun and placed the garden hose across it to heat the water in the hose. Then she would wash dishes with the solar-heated water.
Living a simple life could be complicated. In 2008, Sue decided she wanted her new car to have both a manual transmission and mechanical window cranks. It took three months to find a new Toyota Corolla to fit the bill.
In her 50s, Sue took up the violin so she could accompany her dad, who’d laid down his bow after decades of playing. He picked it up again for duets with Sue, which, Kevin said, gave him a break from working at the cottages and brought him relief as he struggled with cancer.
Sue appreciated the assistance of numerous volunteers and helpers as she dealt with her own cancer.
She is survived by her siblings, Jeff Brown of New Jersey, Joan Colombo of New Jersey, and Bonnie Bonse of North Truro; her daughter, Robin Macdonald of Maine; her son, Kevin Gatto of Chicopee; and 13 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, and thousands of former sandcastle students.
She was predeceased by her sister, Diane Rose.
There will be a celebration of Susan’s life in July, with details to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to Helping our Women, 34 Conwell St., Provincetown 02657; Nauset Neighbors, Box 1716, Orleans 02653; or the Wellfleet Council on Aging, 715 Old King’s Hwy., Wellfleet 02667.