By Barbara Goodheart, ELS
We have lost our publisher, Sue Emerson. It happened on April 18, following a short illness. Just a year or so earlier we’d celebrated an important milestone—Sue’s 25 years as publisher of Addiction Treatment Forum.
Many of AT Forum’s readers didn’t know, or know of, Susan Caille Emerson. At one time Sue ran a “From the Publisher” column, but that was a while back. In recent years readers didn’t see her name on the publication unless they clicked on Contact Us. Yet Sue was the founder and sole owner of Clinco Communications, Inc., the company that publishes AT Forum.
When asked about her background, Sue liked to say she’d “come up through advertising.” She graduated from Michigan State with a BA in Advertising, then worked in media development for consumer-oriented accounts at BBD, Needham Harper & Steers, Tatham Laird & Kudner, and other agencies.
Next came more than 10 years in account management at business-to-business medical advertising agencies, among them Noble Arnold & Associates.
And then Sue moved on to Addiction Treatment Forum. She felt that her mission there was to serve as a source of support and encouragement for the opioid addiction community, and as an advocate for medication-assisted treatment in opioid treatment programs. The publication’s primary goal, she believed, was to report what has happened, what is happening today, and what may develop tomorrow, to help further success in treating opioid addiction.
The first newsletter was published in the summer of 1992, a quarterly print publication, eight pages long. In the Fall of 2011, it became electronic only. The schedule became bimonthly in 2014, then monthly in August 2018. Over the years Sue also expanded the AT Forum website, providing news updates, white papers, special reports, and brochures, helping to achieve AT Forum’s mission and goal.
During those years, according to Sue’s closest friend, Joy Jacoby, Sue enjoyed a busy life. She and her husband, Chuck, had no children, but traveled extensively, and enjoyed doing things together—boating, playing golf, and hosting parties. In talking with Joy several days ago, I remembered that I’d been on the phone with Sue a couple of times when Chuck knocked on her office door and delivered a nice lunch he’d prepared.
After losing Chuck nine years ago, Sue lived rather quietly. She spent much of her time in her upstairs office in her home in Vernon Hills, a northwest suburb of Chicago. She’d dine with friends twice a month, and holidays might see her picking up a takeout dinner at a nice restaurant, but otherwise Sue wasn’t into get-togethers or dining out or leaving her office very often. Usually she didn’t even travel to Chicago, an easy 35-mile train ride. Occasionally, though, an out-of-town friend visited Chicago, and Sue would take a cab into the city.
But she always took very seriously, and gladly accepted, her responsibilities to AT Forum, as she saw them: communicating with others in the addiction treatment field, learning from them, sharing her information and experiences. Spotting new trends, new ideas, new hopes for treatment. Getting to know people who were making, or would soon make, a difference in the field.
Despite her dislike for traveling, Sue regularly attended conferences of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD), no matter where the conferences were held. At those meetings Sue was the clear and obvious presence of AT Forum.
Above all, Sue cared about her readers, and communicated directly with them. The phone number listed in the newsletter rang in Sue’s office; faxes arrived there. She didn’t allow a secretary or answering service to intervene. An answering machine took over in her absence.
She cared most about readers who were seeking answers to questions about opioid addiction, especially those who had an addiction, or had a loved one who did; people who wanted personal advice about treatment, better treatment, better answers to addiction-related problems. When people called about places to go, resources to seek out—Sue listened, she offered suggestions, she helped.
She was deeply grateful for the differences AT Forum was able to make in peoples’ lives—yet she wouldn’t take credit personally. When we were drafting the 25th anniversary issue of our newsletter, Sue resisted all attempts to quote her at length, or to write about her contributions. But her pride shows in this brief quote she finally offered, about what AT Forum was able to accomplish:
People thanked AT Forum, because patients and OTP staff members were seeing improvements in their patients. Effective methadone dosing levels, and comprehensive care—things that AT Forum played a role in bringing about—were helping patients get better.
It was Sue’s determination and drive that helped her accomplish so much. When technology hit the medical communications scene, some time back, some people in marketing had trouble coping—especially people in Sue’s age group. Technology wasn’t easy for Sue, but she immediately grasped its potential. She saw the internet as a huge opportunity for patients and families to access more—and better—addiction resources. She realized that she could put the internet and its opportunities to even greater use if she personally stepped up to meet the new tech challenges. And so, when Twitter came along, Sue set up a Twitter account for AT Forum in February 2011, and personally managed all aspects of it. She did the same with Facebook.
A recent tally shows how effective her efforts were: Twitter: 3,070 tweets, 588 followers, 158 followings; Facebook: 1,155 likes, 1,280 followers. And 5,500 readers have signed up to be notified by email whenever AT Forum posts new content.
As time went on, Sue devoted more and more of her heart and soul to AT Forum. She spent most of her time in her office. I knew she was alone much of the time, so I sometimes sent her silly emails, little diversions, attempts at humor. She seemed to find them amusing. And when the working day was over—for her, that was often well into the evening—she would close the AT Forum computer files and click over to Words With Friends.
Just when you thought you knew her—and I’d worked with her for 12 years, so I thought I did—she’d startle you by doing something unexpected, often something thoughtful. A phone call—a gushing, “Wonderful article! Best you’ve ever written for AT Forum!” Another time, the mail brought a brief, sentimental note—with a very generous gift certificate for dinner for two.
Looking back at her long career at AT Forum, several things stand out. Sue carried the publication through a truly remarkable period: from the days when the only medication for opioid use disorder was methadone, routinely underdosed, to today, when buprenorphine and naltrexone are available as well, and adequate dosing of methadone is expected, even routine. Where we once had piecemeal treatments, we now have comprehensive care—meeting all the patient’s needs, not just needs directly related to addiction. Through it all, Sue’s intuition, born from her close ties with patients, guided her choice of coverage, so her readers had the stories—the information they needed—to keep up.
Especially notable, Sue’s era—and her influence—extended over one of the great sociomedical tragedies of recent times: the opioid crisis.
Sue covered all that, and more, guiding and encouraging her writers, putting to work the power of the press, supplying her readers with facts, with information they could trust.
And now, Sue is gone. It’s hard to realize that we’ve lost our publisher. We are devastated. But we know what we need to do, how to carry on. We will manage. She would have expected no less of us.