Sue Baty, a teacher known for her keen mind, adventurous spirit and inner strength, died in her home of over six decades in Point Reyes Station on Nov. 15. She was 89.
Sue arrived in West Marin after her husband, David, took a job serving as a judge in a local justice court. In 1959, the couple moved into a home they had built on what is now Fox Drive, where they raised their four children. After a career as a teacher, including for the Shoreline Unified School District, Sue remained active in the community, pursuing political activism, community science, peer counseling, and local library and history archive initiatives.
“She knew everything,” said Celeste Woo, a former Point Reyes Station librarian. “You could talk with her about anything about the history of the community, the people, the geography— she knew every plant, every bird, every trail—and it was great to be around her. I don’t know anybody as knowledgeable about Point Reyes as Sue. And about the world, too.”
Sue was born on Sept. 4, 1931 to Marvin and Azilda Gosney. Marvin, an oilman from Missouri, and Azilda, a nurse from Quebec, raised Sue in Westchester County, N.Y., along with a younger sister and a half-sister. Sue lived on the East Coast, studying French and history at Mount Holyoke College, until she moved to California to attend Stanford University, where she earned her teaching credential.
Sue met David at Stanford. David, a Chicago boy who had returned to the university to finish his law degree after several years in the Navy, noticed Sue from across the room at a party and said that he fell in love with her at first sight. The two shared a voracity for reading that would one day lead to the development of an extensive in-home library and a taste for adventure that would take them around the world. They married in 1954 at the Stanford Chapel.
The couple moved to San Rafael after graduating. Sue taught at what is now San Domenico School and The Branson School. Later, David took a job as justice court judge—which, until 1969 when justice courts were merged with municipal courts in California, would hear misdemeanors—and until 1971 worked out of a courthouse located where the sheriff’s substation in Point Reyes Station is now.
When the Batys moved to West Marin, their kids were young. David was three, Tom was two and Katy was an infant. Nathan wasn’t born yet.
Sue found a job at West Marin School, where she taught a wide range of subjects. After winding up with her eldest son in her class and experiencing the awkwardness, Sue made a move to Tomales High. She served on the district’s school board, and clippings from newspapers in the 1960s show her passionately advocating for teachers to help guide the district with their on-the-ground knowledge. After voicing concerns about the quality of education at Shoreline, she resigned in 1967.
At home, Sue was a mother who stayed in the moment, according to her son, Tom. “She was a very present mom, and shepherded the four of us along quite well,” he said. He added, “She didn’t spend a lot of time looking backwards, or she didn’t share that with us. She was more like, ‘Here’s what we are doing.’ She was present, and moving into the future.”
Sue would take her children on adventures, packing up the family station wagon for two- or three-week road trips up the coast, to Yellowstone, or the Southwest. They cooked on the tailgate and slept in tents. Usually, her husband stayed at home to feed their wide collection of pets—dogs, cats, horses and a donkey.
Once the children were out of the house, David and Sue traveled together, although Sue occasionally took adventures alone. They crossed Europe and went to Australia, to New Zealand and to Central and South America. She snorkeled on reefs in the Caribbean and taught English in Poland. Sue kept in touch with the people she met, leading to a large contingent of friends across the globe, Tom said.
At home, Sue turned to community pursuits. In the 1980s, she served on the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, volunteered for a hospice program and as a peer counselor. She also volunteered for the Jack Mason Museum, helping to create oral histories with the old timers on the coast. Local historian Dewey Livingston remembers her as a skilled interviewer.
“Sue was a powerhouse, getting good things done in the museum archives. Her strongest legacy was the oral histories. She would go out with her tape recorder and she was a very good interviewer. She knew how to listen and to ask the right questions and to get people to loosen up. She was really intelligent, and a good person,” Dewey said.
Sue was a staunch supporter of the local libraries, and her appetite for books and knowledge made a lasting impression on librarians. Reflecting her broad interests, the extensive collection of books in her home was organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. In 1983, she helped found the Tomales Bay Library Association, and she helped launch several library programs that persist today.
She co-created with Celeste the Point Reyes Knitting Club that met faithfully every Thursday at the Point Reyes Library beginning in the early 2000s. Her knitting prowess, which yielded all manner of garments, impressed everyone. Nancy Hemmingway, the former head librarian in Inverness, recalled, “Sue could spot errors in the knitting directions—that was thrilling.”
Her book smarts meant that she quickly became an expert in anything that struck her interest, Tom said. She volunteered for the Native Plant Society, tracking rare and endangered plants, and for Audubon Canyon Ranch in Marshall, organizing the reference libraries on natural science and ornithology. An avid hiker with access to the Point Reyes National Seashore from her doorstep, the natural world was a place of solace as well as learning for Sue.
“She had a tremendous amount of inner resources,” Tom said. “She had the capacity to educate herself, to entertain herself, to keep both her mind and her body incredibly active without external forces, without the need for anyone to deliver those things to her. She was very capable of moving her interests along. She was self-sufficient and a self-starter.”
After her husband’s death in 2017, Sue faced the pandemic, a fire that made her evacuate her home, and the political turmoil of the past year while living alone. A lifelong Democrat, she campaigned fiercely for Joe Biden, and news of his election reached her shortly after she suffered the stroke that would take her life.
“We told her, ‘Your guy won,’ and she laughed: She was joyous,” Tom said.
Sue is predeceased by her son, David. She is survived by her three children, Tom, Katy and Nathan, and her grandson, Tom.