R.I.P. Susan Wirth (1946 – 2017)

I am mortified by the news of the unexpected death of Susan Wirth, who was widely known in the world of fountain pen aficionados and collectors.

I met her at the Los Angeles International Pen show and looked forward to seeing her again every year. We never got to talk much (she was always very busy) but it was fun seeing her in action: just being Susan Wirth, the colorful personality she was.

Over the years, I’ve brought many newcomers to the pen show – people who didn’t know anything about pens, inks and papers, and who were both impressed and confused by the frenzied activity and plethora of displays. These poor souls who were too confounded to see the trees in the forest, I always sent to Susan.

With anyone interested in pens, Susan had the patience of an angel. She didn’t mind if people just looked, touched and tried, or asked uninformed questions. In fact, she encouraged it. Best of all, she had the gift of putting intimidated newbies at ease. Her enthusiasm was infectious and her encouragement and advice turned hesitant rookies into converts. Nothing seems to have made her happier than knowing she had spread the love of pens and manual writing to yet another person, or as the put it on her web site: “Specializing in helping people find pens that enhance their writing”.

Susan never pressured anyone to buy from her table, nor did she talk people into particular pens or nibs. Rather, she was a matchmaker, always on a quest to find the pen most fitting for a person’s hands and needs. If she didn’t have it, she was always willing to offer advice on where else that perfect, yet elusive match could possibly be found. To her, locating the right pen was like a treasure hunt, and she took genuine pleasure from being part of it. On many occasions, she even walked prospective buyers to another seller’s table and made the introduction.

Susan was a down-to-earth, common sense person. Much of the advice she gave to beginners makes perfect sense, but is nevertheless often not followed even by seasoned buyers: when trying out a pen, do extensive writing tests in a natural writing position – not while standing and bending over. And try writing what you normally write – not just names and frequently used phrases.

Susan wasn’t afraid to get ink on her fingers and in fact wore it as a badge of honor. On occasion, she gregariously referred to herself as “the Queen of Ink”.

I will miss her.


The June 2017 issue of Pen World magazine (at which I serve as Contributing Editor) will have more coverage. Meanwhile, here is the obituary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 

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