She was walking proof that people do recover, and can live a beautiful, normal, quirky life.

On March 11, 2022, Prevention Point Philadelphia’s (PPP’s) community lost a beloved advocate, colleague, and friend — Susan Corrigan. Our world has not been the same since.

“Sue was a valued member of our Prevention Point family,” says José Benitez, Executive Director of PPP. “She always had a smile on her face and a kind word.  She dedicated herself to providing services to those most in need. Her memory will continue to inspire us to meet people where they are.”

In honor and celebration of Susan, we spoke with some of the people in Philadelphia’s local harm reduction community who knew her best.

Carla Calabrese: Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Outreach Specialist. Former PPP staff.

Sue was a great friend and listener. If I ever needed some advice I would always go to her because she would always give me an honest answer. She’s just so missed. It is a huge loss. I first met her working at Prevention Point, and we just clicked right away. She was a helper and hard worker. From there we became friends. We’d go out to eat, to Bible study, to a meeting… I really loved her.

"You couldn't help but love her."

Sue was funny, she gave great advice. She would help anybody. She always wanted to be working so she could help people, seven days a week. Maybe she shouldn’t have been working so much, but it is what she wanted to do. She was unstoppable. She loved to be at the Drop-in at Prevention Point helping people because that’s what helped her. That’s what saved her life, she said, so she wanted to give back… You couldn’t help but love her.

Sue was very proud of her children; she loved them and her grandchildren. They were like the sunshine in her eyes.

Nissa: Acting Director of the Drop-In Center, PPP

Sue was the most affirming person. In stepping into this role as Acting Director of the Drop-in or earlier when I became a coordinator, she was a number-one cheerleader and affirmer... She was so powerfully supportive.

Sue was with me when I got the “okay” from José and Silvana to put a Warming Center together during a deep Code Blue. She was so amped. She was like, “Let’s go! We’re gonna set up the beds! We’re gonna make it like a fun warm party!” She was amped in a way that made me feel — "Oh my gosh, this is happening last-minute, this is stressful, but I’m so glad we got the opportunity to do this and we’re going to pull together the best we can and it’s all gonna be ok."

"We could do everything if we knew we were supported by each other."

During the last six months she’s been a part-time drop-in lead on the weekends. Every weekend she would check in with me, saying things like, “This is what we got going on today! Allison spilled eggs in the kitchen and we made it a slip n’ slide! But of course we got it! You know me, Suzie Q, rock n’ roll baby!”

Regardless of whatever wild anecdotes were thrown in that made me laugh, I always knew that everyone was safe and everything was under control. She had it. You could trust everything was ok when she was there.

Sue preparing sandwiches for participants in the PPP kitchen.
Sue preparing sandwiches for participants in the PPP kitchen.

Goofy, crass, off-the-cuff. I never met anybody like Susan. She made me feel special, she made everybody feel special. She made me feel like part of a team, like “I got your back, you got my back.” We could do everything if we knew we were supported by each other.

I just love her.

With participants she was her genuine self — supportive and affirming. But also sometimes crass, and people responded well to that because they knew she was being real. She never babied anybody, she was never condescending. She was the most supportive but also realistic and frank person. She would tell it how it is.

"She was so sincerely, unabashedly herself in a way that a lot of people either can’t be or aren’t."

She had a self-awareness that was incredible. People loved, respected, and looked up to her. I can think of many participants who told her, “I want to be like you. I want to live up to the things you are enacting.”

She was so sincerely, unabashedly herself in a way that a lot of people either can’t be or aren’t. I think a lot of people really admire that. And there are some things about her being unabashedly herself that we got in conflict about... She had some views that were very different from mine, but she was always open to hearing why someone might think differently. She wasn’t defensive. She was really receptive to learning from people older than her and younger than her. It didn’t matter that I am the age of her kids. It felt like a very, very special and mutually respectful relationship.

She was forever curious and open to all the things of life. If you needed someone in your corner to fight for you or to make you feel better when you were down, she was the best person to have in your corner. Yeah. She wouldn’t go anywhere until she knew you were ok.

Sue with staff
Sue takes a selfie with PPP staff at the first warming center of Winter 2022.

Kelli Murray-Garant: Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS) and Peer Specialist (CPS) for Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health, Penn Medicine. Former PPP staff.

I met Sue at my class in 2018. I was the CPS. We were so happy — we were in our recovery, we were finally finding a career. Sue loved going to school, taking classes, and doing educational activities. It made her feel good. We hit it off from there.

She was dealing with a lot of trauma at the time due to a loss in her life, a great loss. But she would never let you know that. She would keep laughing and smiling and cracking jokes . She was like my laugh therapist!

She would know exactly what to say, when to not say something... Whatever moment a participant was in, she was in it with them. We’d get deep in conversations about life and what we’d experienced and then we’d work it out, and eventually crack up.

We talked one time in the car, and I said that if I died at this point in my life, I would be completely content. I feel like I’ve experienced everything I need to in life. I’ve given birth, I’ve had careers, I’ve had a good life, and now I’m in recovery and feeling wonderful. And she said, “You know what? Sure. Absolutely. I feel the same way, Kell.” I’m just so glad we had that conversation because I know she was ok with departing this place.

"No matter what happens, the best gift you can give yourself is forgiveness."

The most important people in her life were her family. She loved her sisters, she had a great relationship with her family, her daughter who she was so proud of. And her son and what a great young man he is, and the beautiful granddaughters he gave her that she absolutely adored.

I want people to remember that she would not want anyone to be sad that she’s not here, but rather to remember things she said or did that touched their lives and to carry that with them through their experiences in life. And to know that no matter what happens, the best gift you can give yourself is forgiveness.

Sue and Kelli
Sue and Kelli pose in front of the Penn Project RIDE van. 

I would want people to remember her spirituality, and how strong her faith was. And I would want them to remember there is nothing you can’t get over with laughter.  

I thought I’d deleted all my voicemail messages from her. I was praying, “Please let me hear her voice one more time.”  So I checked my phone, and since I’m not tech-savvy I didn’t know you need to “delete your deletes.” So I had 442 saved messages and in one of them Sue was asking me what time I was arriving at the van [work]. At the end she said, “All right, I’ll see ya later dirtball!” I was like, really? That's Sue! 

The second voicemail was from another night when she called just to say, “Kell, just calling to say hello and how ya doing, what’s happening? That’s all. I just wanted to tell ya I love ya.” And that is all I needed. That was a sign, that’s all I needed to know.

Megan McAllister: Counselor at a drug and alcohol facility. Former PPP staff.

I have known Sue for over three years and she has been an amazing person since the first day. What started out as a professional relationship quickly turned into a friendship. Sue and I used to be each other’s counselors and she would joke that I was her “case manager.” I would help her with certain things like the computer or taking notes.

She was a wonderful outreach specialist and all of our clients loved her. She was brutally honest but always respected my sensitive side. We would hug every day when saying goodbye for the day. She was my best friend.

The last time I spoke to Sue I was inviting her to my wedding. She agreed that she would attend, and I was so excited because I knew she would be the life of the party.

Megan and Sue
Megan McAllister and Susan Corrigan worked together first at PPP and later at Project RIDE. 

Cristina Laboy: Department of Public Health. Former PPP staff.

When I first met Sue I thought, wow this is an unusual cookie here. But as I got to know her, I understood her… a lot of people who didn’t know her would at first wouldn’t get her. They’d think she was very “tough,” very stern, the “yes-we’ve-gotta-go-do-this!” kind of person. But she was a teddy bear. I don’t know how often she showed that. As time went by, we got closer and closer.

She was funny, more than anything! She was caring. There isn’t anything Susan wouldn’t do for someone. She was a jokester. I can still hear her voice in my head saying, “That’s right! Let’s do it!”

Two years ago we went to a Sisters Conference in Atlantic City. We spent the weekend together, four of us, and she was my sleeping partner. We almost didn’t make it to the workshop the next day because we were laughing at her stories, how she mimicked her father, her whole performance… we were up really late just laughing because that’s who she was. We belly-laughed the entire weekend.

Cristina and Sue
Cristina and Sue in Atlantic City, 2019. 

I was with her the Monday before she passed. I walked with her through Kensington to Beacon House [PPP's emergency shelter] because she was stationed there and seeing if anyone was interested in the program at Project RIDE. I told her, “I’m not talking to you anymore because you keep talking to everyone else on the way here and you’re not paying me any attention!” And she said, “Don’t be so jealous, there’s enough for everybody!” And that was just her. Like, “I can’t help it if people love me like that!”

At Beacon House she gave me a hug and a kiss and said, “I’ll see you on Thursday” and that was the last time I saw her.

"It was really important to her to treat people with dignity."

I can still hear her in my head. Every time I would tell her a story she’d say, “Baby Jesus! Please!” or, “Oh Lord. Mary, Jesus, and Joseph! Ok, let’s do this!” She made everything funny… She would roll her window down and say hello to strangers. She’d say, “Hey beautiful, have a good day!” She’d always say that “Everybody needs a little bit of love. You just gotta give love to other people.” Even with total strangers, she would always get them to smile, to laugh.

It was really important to her to treat people with dignity. And always to make sure she gave back, because she felt like she got so much and didn’t deserve it.

She was an inspiration to many. If you don’t know her story, she dealt with her own addiction. She had to deal with the loss of her son’s life while she was incarcerated. All that haunted her and bothered her. Sometimes we would have to give her a little reminder, like, “Listen, you’ve come so far.” She was walking proof that people do recover, and can live a beautiful, normal, quirky life.

John Saez: Drop-in Center Support Staff, PPP

I met Sue here at the Drop-in Center. I worked with her for three years. I got one word to describe her: vibrant. No matter what situation she might be going through, she always treated people well. She never changes. She was always hyped! We had so many good times. Speaking of laughter — forget about it! That’s one thing I do really miss.

She is something else and I wanted to express that. One of a kind. I miss you, Sue.

Susan in PPP gear

Susan Corrigan's obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer is available here.