Smiling woman with long dark hair and glasses

Susan Dubois

Susan Georgine Whitleff was born July 13, 1977, in Batesville, Mississippi, to George and Helen Whitleff. George was a deputy sheriff in Panola County, and Helen was a homemaker.

Susan had a typical childhood in a loving family until her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when Susan was ten. Helen and George tried very hard to provide a regular routine for their daughter, but as the cancer progressed, it became harder for Helen to care for her husband and daughter.

Susan would have devoted all her out-of-school time caring for her mother, but her parents insisted that she continue to spend time with her friends and on her schoolwork.

Helen died when Susan was 12 years old. George, Helen, and Susan had prepared as much as possible for the impending death, but the following year was naturally very difficult. George stayed close to his daughter by maintaining an interest in her schooling and her friends, even with his busy work schedule, and Susan thrived under his care.

In her junior year of high school, when her friends were engrossed in dates and boys, Susan was thinking about her lifelong dream of going to the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Her father had been saving for Susan's college education, even through his wife's illness and death. With the help from her father, student loans, and working part-time, she felt sure she could swing it.

Then in the summer of 1995, while she was making plans to move to Oxford, George was killed in the line of duty when he responded to a domestic disturbance call. Feeling very alone, Susan decided to move to Oxford and work for a year to save enough money to go to the university.

She found a job at the Square Books store. The owners loved her because, despite her grief over losing her father, she was always pleasant with the customers and brightened everyone's day. Return customers sought her out to wait on them. She read whenever possible so she would be conversant with the customers.

Late in the summer, a young man came into the store and was instantly attracted to Susan's wonderful smile and pleasant manner. Gerard Dubois always described his first encounter with her as "love at first sight." Gerard was unlike anyone Susan had ever met. The son of a well-to-do family with cotton holdings in Greenville, MS, he was confident, considerate, and wonderful to be with. They became constant companions and married six months later.

Susan never regretted giving up college for her Prince Charming. They settled in Oxford, and Gerard traveled often to Greenville to tend to his family's business interests. They were thrilled when their daughter, Barbara, was born in August 1997.

Susan looked forward to spending her life as Gerard's wife and the mother of his children. Then in 1999, Gerard was killed in an auto accident driving home from Greenville. Susan was a widow at 22 years old and once again had to face the heartbreak of a loved one's death.

She approached single parenthood with a focus that could sometimes be smothering, but Barbara seemed to thrive. Susan told others she would make sure her daughter had opportunities that she didn't.

She worked two jobs, leveraged the insurance money, and mortgaged and re-mortgaged their home to pay for all the necessary lessons and wardrobe to make her daughter successful on the pageant circuit. She maintained that attitude even when money got tight.

When she could no longer afford big-name coaches, she found Marty "Slim" Rutgers and hired him to prepare Barbara. The two worked together for years until, when Barbara was around age 14, Rutgers abruptly stopped coaching her. Thereafter, he was simply named as a "consultant" in Barbara's press releases and applications.

Susan's few close friends spoke of her devotion to Barbara and her fear that she would be left alone and penniless. Despite that fear, Susan never remarried, and after some disastrous matchmaking attempts by friends, backed away from dating. Instead, she dedicated herself to her daughter's happiness and success.

 

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