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Susanne Winbush, state caseworker and ‘counselor at heart,’ dies at 76

Susanne Winbush

Susanne Winbush

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Updated: January 27, 2014 12:36PM

Susanne Winbush could find a humorous one-liner to lighten any adversity, dispel darkness and lift your spirits, her family and friends say.

And though retired as a longtime caseworker with the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services, Ms. Winbush never stopped being a counselor, they said.

Ms. Winbush, of Edgewater, died Dec. 8 of complications from a series of strokes suffered while fighting lung cancer. She was 76.

She had retired in 2000 after working for about 35 years, first as a juvenile probation officer, then as a caseworker for the state Department of Public Aid, then the state Department of Rehabilitation Services. Her personality perfectly fit her work, friends said.

“She was always thoughtful and caring and kind,” said longtime companion Stan Gasowski, who had known her for 41 years. “She always had a sense of humor, and even when things were gloomy, always looked for the positive. She was just ever an optimistic person.”

Another friend of 25 years, Michele Harrison-Gogins, concurred.

“She was an angel, probably the most compassionate person I’ve ever met in my life,” she said. “Susanne never had a bad thing to say about anyone, even people that drove everyone else insane. She just found a good spirit in everybody. I keep turning to pick up the phone and tell her what movies we’re missing, that we’d better go here and we need to go there. She loved the movies and going different places. She was my rock.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to parents Francis Hussey and Marjorie Mallon Hussey, Ms. Winbush was raised in Brooklyn and Detroit, where her family moved when she was a teen.

Her sons said she obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from a Catholic university before moving to Chicago, where she initially found work at the University of Chicago. She met and married Peter “Bob” Winbush in the ’60s, and they had two sons.

“She was a wonderful mother, caring, giving and understanding,” said her son Adam.

“She had a spitfire personality, outgoing, with a big spirit, and always willing to help someone,” he said. “She had so many friends and so much love for people. I’m going to miss our long drives together to view the changing of seasons.”

After having her children, Ms. Winbush took a job with the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Juvenile Probation Department in the late ’70s. In the ’80s, she took her casework skills to state government. While working at the Department of Public Aid, she received her master’s in psychology from Northeastern Illinois University in the ’90s, then moved to the Department of Rehabilitation Services. She also worked as a DUI educator for people convicted of the crime for an agency contracted with the Cook County Courts.

Her vast experience in social work was the source of many stories shared with friends.

“Her humor, joy and thoughtfulness paralleled her care, concern and love for all who had the privilege of knowing her,” longtime friend Marjory Reimer said.

A breast cancer survivor for more than two decades, Ms. Winbush learned she had lung cancer in October. She never lost her sunny outlook on life, her family said. Her biggest lament during several recent hospitalizations? Leaving her beloved rat terrier mix, Tilly.

“She went through a lot, and through it all, she was always persevering and always cracking jokes,” said her son, Peter. “She never lost her sense of humor, and she definitely instilled that in us. My mom was just a counselor at heart. She counseled everyone she came in contact with, and she just had such a big heart.”

Besides her sons, survivors include a grandson, Peter Winbush Jr.

A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Church of Atonement, 5749 N. Kenmore. For more information, call (773) 577-9234.


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