By James Draper
Suzanne Bardwell’s legacy endures – look no further than the thriving Japanese Maple freshly-planted downtown.
The crimson-leafed tree is not only a tangible example of Bardwell’s dedication to beautifying her adopted community but also a tribute to her ‘We can do this’ mantra. It’s one her colleagues from Gladewater’s Beautification Board remembered fondly as they gathered to honor their late-chairperson alongside family and friends Friday afternoon.
“She was our leader and she was our driving force,” said Todd Clifton, Austin Bank president and leader of the beautification committee. “When Suzanne was determined to do something, she was all in. It wasn’t a little bit. She was gung-ho.
“Suzanne cared deeply about the appearance of our city, our community, our pride in our neighborhoods and our public places. She worked diligently on projects to enhance the aesthetics and natural beauty of Gladewater with an emphasis on litter control, code enforcement and community partnership. She even cared about the potholes.”
The Gladewater Mirror’s ‘Pothole of the Week’ was one of many of Bardwell’s ongoing passions that persisted to her death.
“When she was determined to do something, she said ‘We can do this.’ And we did. She was a great encourager,” Clifton said. He recited David Wright’s poem ‘Plant a Tree’ in honor of the occasion and in Bardwell’s memory. “The loss of Suzanne in January 2022 left a hole in our community, and it was a great loss for the Bardwell family.”
Mirror Publisher Jim Bardwell; son, Josh; and daughter-in-law, Jennifer, gathered with the beautification volunteers to commemorate the tree Gladewater Enforcement Officer Al Harrison had planted alongside Gladewater Museum’s antique fire truck display at the corner of East Broadway Avenue and East Pacific Avenue.
Harrison confessed he was perplexed in past conversations with Bardwell when she advocated for a Japanese Maple there.
“Aren’t those a red tree?” Harrison asked, thinking it would clash with the fire truck and the neighboring greenery. “Time would go on, we’d go to another meeting, the subject would come up again. I was always kind of curious, why a red tree?
“We never did anything. Suzanne passed, and I never really got to find out – why a Japanese maple?”
Serendipitously, Josh Bardwell was able to answer that question and provide some surprise closure for all the beautification board members.
Wright’s poem was such a favorite that Suzanne sent it to her son his first year of forestry school, Josh said with thanks to Clifton, and that specific tree always brought her joy. Granted, the non-native plant led to some lighthearted bickering between them.
It was a touch of enduring beauty for his mother, though.
“Fall, when the leaves change color, was one of her favorite things,” he told the group. “What she loved about the Japanese Maple was it looked like Fall year-round. That way, she could enjoy it more than one season.”
It’s a lingering note that resounded with Bardwell’s loved ones.
“Suzanne was a force of nature,” Jim Bardwell agreed.
And when she wanted something done…
“By golly, it got done,” Clifton said. “I hope we have that kind of determination in wanting our city to be beautiful, because she did.”
PLANT A TREE
by David H. Wright
If when I am gone
Thou would’st honor me
Then plant a tree.
Some highway, bleak and bare,
Make green with leaves.
So radiant and fair
And full of leaves my monument will be,
So ever full of tuneful melody.
My monument will be
A sight most rare –
Trees planted everywhere.
A highway broad from city to the sea –
Plant this in memory of me.