Obituaries » Susan Tyler Thomas Duerson

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Susan Tyler Thomas Duerson

April 29, 1943 - November 30, 2020

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Susan Tyler Thomas Duerson, 77, of Lynchburg, VA, died November 30, 2020 at Westminster Canterbury surrounded by her three children. She lived there for two years in the final stages of Parkinson’s. The Covid-19 pandemic prevented her from having visitors for eight months, though many caregivers drawn to her spirit and humor became a second family.

“Let’s get out of here,” Susan said to one helper about a week before she died. “You drive, I’ll ride shotgun.”

Susan collected friends easily everywhere she went, from the post office to Paris, with her trademark exuberance and warmth. She loved people and people loved her.  Many have a handful of favorite stories beginning with “You won’t believe what happened one time when I was with Susan…” .

Born on April 29, 1943 in Norfolk, VA, the only daughter of the late Sue Tyler Thomas and Vincent Graves Thomas. Her strength and spirit were made evident early, when she kept her bright light shining at age nine even after her father died. Susan grew up in Norfolk surrounded by a large extended family with dozens of cousins all living in a four-block radius. The entire clan gathered for holidays at the Serpell home on Westover Avenue and summers were spent at Belle Hampton, the family farm in southwestern Virginia.

Susan attended Country Day School for Girls, now Norfolk Academy, and St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C. Through a blind date, she met Hardy Duerson, a student at Hampden Sydney College, and they married in 1963. They moved to Lynchburg, VA, where they raised two sons and a daughter.

A devoted mother, she had a perfect attendance record at all of her children’s many sporting events. While she put her children above all else, she made time to serve her community, primarily through the Junior League. Recognizing the plight of juvenile offenders, Susan chaired the effort to create a probation house for boys ages 11 to 17 rather than sending them to prison.

The family moved to Raleigh in 1982 and once again Susan endeared herself to her children’s friends, their parents and everyone who crossed her always unpredictable path. She was an active member of the Junior League, Colonial Dames and served on the board of the Women’s Center of Raleigh.

While Susan and Hardy divorced in 1990, they remained close friends until his death in 2014.  Susan moved back to Lynchburg in 1995 and was a sales representative in the gift industry for Pimpernel. Clients she met at gift stores in Virginia and the Carolinas soon became good friends who looked forward to seeing her during gift markets in New York and Atlanta.

Cherishing the time with her seven granddaughters, Susan would take each of them on a one-on-one trip at the age of seven.  Her grandchildren especially loved the bragging rights that their “Grammy”, a fan of Busch Gardens, would ride the Griffon roller coaster, the world’s second fastest dive coaster.

While Susan didn’t go to Europe until her 50th birthday, she made up for lost time with several trips throughout the continent, as well as China and New Zealand. She rented a flat in Paris for a month for her 70th birthday so she could host her children and other family and friends.

Susan loved being close to home as well, playing cards with friends many nights for the last decade of her life. Bridge was a favorite, but she dominated at Hand & Foot.

Whether during a card game, a cruise, or in line for a roller coaster, Susan loved to tell stories. She or someone she knew had lived each one of her tales, though on occasion the facts were slightly blurred. “Never let the truth get in the way of telling a good story,” was her qualifier.

Susan’s many friends and family will remember her for the early morning phone calls on their special day with her signature rendition of the “Happy Birthday” serenade, her clever toasts and hilarious skits she performed at memorable dinner parties and most famously the farm parties she hosted at Granny Sue’s. Her absence has already been felt at her beloved St. John’s Episcopal Church, where until a year ago, she attended church regularly always arriving 30 minutes early.  While Susan is adored for her exuberant side, she is remembered even more as a fiercely loyal friend, relative and mother who always offered frank, smart and reassuring counsel in times of need.

Along with her parents, she is predeceased by her brothers Vincent Johns Thomas and William Allison Thomas.  She is survived by her sons, Samuel Hardy Duerson III and wife, Gray of Lynchburg, VA; Bradley Tyler Duerson and wife, Lori of Stephens City, VA; and her daughter, Elizabeth Duerson Williamson and husband, Julian of Raleigh, NC; and seven granddaughters: Virginia Tyler Duerson, Sarah Gordon Duerson, Rebecca Grace Duerson, Laura Ann Duerson, Susan Serpell Williamson, Blanche Robertson Williamson and Elizabeth Redfern Williamson. She is also survived by brother Heth Tyler Thomas and wife, Elizabeth of Lynchburg; sisters-in-law Barbara Hofler Thomas and Elizabeth Carroll Thomas of Norfolk; and several nieces and nephews with whom she remained close.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a private funeral will be held for the family with a celebration of Susan’s life planned for the spring to coincide with her birthday.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to Virginia Episcopal School, 400 V.E.S Road, Lynchburg, VA, 24503, to St. John’s Episcopal Church, 200 Boston Avenue, Lynchburg, VA, 24503, or to a charity of one’s choice.

Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory is assisting the family.

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