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LARSON: Friend knows how to live every day to the fullest

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

I love field trips. When my kids were in school I was always the first to volunteer to chaperone. Friends still tease me about the way I used to pile all the kids in the cul-de-sac into my mini-van and haul them off on some local adventure.

So when my friend Patti-Jo Shapiro announced, "I'm retired and I'm spending the rest of my life taking field trips. Do you want to join me?" I said yes in a heartbeat.

Last November, Patti-Jo, who is known all over Gwinnett for her photography, transitioned out of real estate to focus all her energy on her health when what started out as a toothache ended up being a very rare form of sinus cancer.

After medication, radiation, chemotherapy and several hospital stays, the results were not what she and her family and friends had hoped for. In spite of the best possible medical treatment and her own determination to win this battle, the cancer metastasized. However, Patti-Jo continues to share her spirit of service and love for her community.

It was with that spirit that she asked me if I'd ever heard of the Songbird Habitat or the Quarry Exhibit at Stone Mountain Park. I hated to admit that I hadn't.

"Wonderful," she said, "For our first field trip, I get to take you someplace you've never been before!"

When we arrived at the park, Patti-Jo led me to the Evergreen Conference Center where we gathered up discount coupons for Atlanta attractions. "Isn't this fun? Look at all the places we can go," she said, as she stuffed dozens of maps and brochures into her tote bag.

Next we drove around to the Songbird Habitat and then on to the Quarry Exhibit, an awesome sight, tucked behind trees and accessed by a walkway suggestive of a railroad track.

Part two of the field trip was my driving her to what she called "a big hole in the ground" at Vulcan Quarry in Norcross where I was able to show her something she'd never seen before. You know, just to keep things even.

When we returned to her house, she shared with me that the Lilburn Woman's Club has set up a scholarship fund in her name. Considering all her involvement in education over more than three decades -- Junior Achievement, Principal for a Day, Senior Leadership, to name a few -- I couldn't think of a better legacy.

"I am so blessed to have this opportunity to be with people I love and to heal. I have the time to say what I want to say to them," she said.

A special message Patti-Jo wants to share with everyone is to "live every day to the fullest of your own personal abilities and remember to act on your concerns for others in the community at every opportunity. And share good times together."

Like going on a field trip.

Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.