FORT PIERCE FOLKS
who was working for the nonprofit Haiti Partners at the time,
recalls. “Twenty minutes later, she was not.”
Forty days after a diagnosis of glioblastoma, her mother
“It was so hard to see someone go from walking two miles
a day to nothing, but she never lost her sense of humor,” she
“She said I’d learned to worm my way through the medical
system and should become a patient advocate when I
‘grew up,’ ” James says smiling. “A friend says my family’s
superpower is humor. Looking back, there were some terrible
things, but we did laugh through them.”
When the nonprofit cut her hours, James saw an opening for
a patient advocate in Vero Beach, exactly what her mother had
suggested. Hired quickly, she was a go-between for patients
and medical personnel, logging 12,000 steps a night. When an
opportunity to work with the hospital’s foundation became
available, she switched to days. She is now the donor liaison
for Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital in Vero Beach.
James loves advocacy work at the hospital, but advocating
for the LGBTQ community continues to be her passion.
“I ran into a woman whose stepson had gone to school with
Ben,” she says. “When I asked how he was doing, she said, ‘We
don’t talk to him. He’s gay now. We don’t believe in that.’ ”
James was so shocked, it stopped her in her tracks.
“How could a parent disown a child over that?”
The encounter motivated her to do more research and gain
a better understanding.
She helped facilitate a support group with PFLAG, the
nation’s largest organization that unites parents, families and
allies with the LGBTQ community. She also is involved with
Mama Bears, a group for mothers, and Free Mom Hugs.
“We basically stand somewhere at Pride events,” she
explains. “People come to us who want to be hugged and
Those seeking hugs are perhaps those who lack the love and
support of their own families, friends or faith communities.
“Everything I’ve heard about God is that he loves everyone,”
Or, as one of her shirts says:
“Be careful who you hate. It could be someone you love.”
of,” James says. “My grandfather said, ‘Jackie, I don’t know
what you’re doing there, but make sure you learn to type.’ ”
James and the other neighborhood children attended Miss
Carrier’s preschool, including “Henry Bell’s mother was FORT
James’ imaginary friend.
a trapeze artist who brought him
every day on a circus elephant,” she recalls.
And every afternoon, James would marry Henry wearing a
baby blanket veil. Her father officiated.
“He just went along,” she recalls. “No one ever questioned
When the family moved to Florida, James was sent to a
boarding school near Orlando.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” she says of that time.
She rejoined her family in Fort Pierce by her sophomore
year, graduated from John Carroll High School and enrolled
in Indian River State College’s dental assistant program.
Then she married the mailman.
“I was 19. He was older.”
After divorcing when their son was 2, James held several
jobs before she was hired at Heathcote Botanical Gardens.
“I learned so much there,” she says. “I was hired to answer
the phone, but thank God my grandmother taught me
to type when I was 6. When the director left, I was thrown
into all kinds of things, planning festivals and fundraising,
That experience led to a position with Treasure Coast
Hospice. While working there, James also helped take care
of her ailing father. In recent years, she helped a close friend
through a difficult medical crisis, and then her mother.
“I talked to Mama on the phone and she was fine,” James,
SUZANNE BRADSHAW JAMES
Lives in: Fort Pierce
Occupation: Donor liaison for
Cleveland Clinic Indian River
Hospital, Vero Beach
Family: Son, Ben Baumker Chicago
and sister, Merle Kincaid
Education: John Carroll High
School, Class of 1985; some classes
at Indian River State College
Hobby: Buying and selling vintage and unique items
Who inspires me: “I’m inspired by people who are creative,
and maybe not one specific person.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “My father
was an art dealer and became friends with Steve Martin.
The first thing he sold was a Rembrandt sketch book to
James, of Fort Pierce, works as the donor liaison at Cleveland Clinic Indian
River Hospital and advocates for the LGBTQ community.