Suzanne Magaziner is Fourth of July chief marshal for 2020

Suzanne Magaziner grew from the granddaughter of poor immigrants to work in the White House, and she lives by the theme of ‘pay it forward’

By Scott Pickering
Posted 5/27/20

Suzanne Magaziner has lived a remarkable life.

“Only in America could the working-class granddaughter of four impoverished immigrants grow up to attend college and law school, and work in …

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Suzanne Magaziner is Fourth of July chief marshal for 2020

Suzanne Magaziner grew from the granddaughter of poor immigrants to work in the White House, and she lives by the theme of ‘pay it forward’

Posted

Suzanne Magaziner has lived a remarkable life.

“Only in America could the working-class granddaughter of four impoverished immigrants grow up to attend college and law school, and work in the White House. I have lived a life they could only have dreamed of,” she wrote in a summary of herself, prepared in anticipation of the most unusual Bristol Fourth of July chief marshal announcement in anyone’s lifetime.

Standing before a small crowd of about a dozen people, half of them her own family, and facing a live-stream audience watching through smart phones and laptops, Ms. Magaziner was introduced as the 2020 chief marshal Wednesday night.

She was chosen by Fourth of July Committee General Chairwoman Michele Martins last fall, in what seems a lifetime ago, before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. Ms. Martins first got to know Ms. Magaziner and her husband, Ira, as regulars at SS Dion restaurant, where Ms. Martins worked part-time for many years.

“I had been noticing her everywhere,” said Ms. Martins. “She had just finished battling cancer, and she told me her story once, and it just took me away … It’s a great story. Her mindset has always been to ‘pay it forward,’ and she’s done that whenever she could.”

Ms. Magaziner agrees with that sentiment. Speaking of her parents and grandparents, she said, “I owe them everything. I will do my best to ‘pay it forward,’ on their behalf, for the rest of my days.”

Growing up

Suzanne (McTigue) Magaziner grew up in Worcester, Mass., a Baby Boomer born to parents who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Her father enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after he graduated from high school, served honorably for four years, and was wounded in action. He was awarded the Purple Heart for service in Iwo Jima. Many years later, he enjoyed riding as a proud veteran aboard a World War II float in the Bristol Fourth of July parade.

Ms. Magaziner’s mother lost her own mother when she was just 3 years old, during the Great Depression. She had a very difficult childhood, living in extreme poverty, sometimes relying on public assistance to survive. She was raised by her father until he died when she was 16 years old, leaving her an orphan as a teenager.

Ms. Magaziner’s parents married after the war and began raising a family together. Her father’s union factory job gave them quality healthcare, and his veteran’s benefits helped them buy a small home. Having survived extreme poverty, Mrs. McTigue was determined to see her own children receive the best educations possible.

Ms. Magaziner attended Catholic schools in Worcester from Grades 1 to 12, then matriculated to Wellesley College. From there, she spent four years at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, where she received both a Juris Doctorate and an MBA.

She met her future husband while she was at Harvard and he was working for Boston Consulting Group and she accepted a job there. The two eventually left to start their own company, Telesis, where they later reunited with some old friends named Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The White House

Ira Magaziner got to know Hillary Rodham Clinton when they were both student body presidents — she at Wellesley College, he at Brown University — and they were brought together for a connected program. Ira then got to Bill Clinton when they were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. Years later, when Mr. Clinton made a surprise run to become President of the United States, the Magaziners were invited to join the administration. Mr. Magaziner was placed in charge of President Clinton’s ambitious effort to reshape healthcare in America, and Ms. Magaziner and her children moved to Washington, D.C.

“My little one was only 3, and the two boys were only 6 and 7,” Ms. Magaziner said. “They were my priority. I knew Ira was going to be very busy.” So she stepped back from her work in their firm and took a part-time job in the Office of the First Lady. “My primary job was to be a Mom to these wonderful little people that we were blessed to have,” Ms. Magaziner said.

Home in Bristol

Ms. Magaziner stayed in D.C. with the kids for about five years, but they never gave up their Bristol home. Sitting inside the understated home with spectacular views on the west side of Poppasquash Point, she said, “This has always been our home.”

The Magaziners were able to purchase a home on the point when they were quite young, and they got married on the property. Over the years, a lot next door became available and they bought it. Then another adjoining lot became available and they bought that, too. Aside from an inground pool and a basketball court, they’ve left most of the property untouched in its natural state. They also turned part of the property into a community garden that generates 10,000 or more pounds of food every year for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and other agencies.

“This has always been our home,” Ms. Magaziner said while relaxing on the property last week. “All the kids spent their summers and most of their holidays here in Bristol. Even if Ira couldn’t come, I would come back to Bristol. The kids have strong friendships in Bristol. They think of themselves as Bristolians.”

Ms. Magaziner has worked for many causes over the years. She joined the Rockwell Elementary School PTO and was its president for two years. She has been a member of the steering committee for the Bristol Community Playground, for the Rogers Free Library Finance Committee and for Save Bristol Harbor.

“Some of my best friends in Bristol go back to those days when I was president of the Rockwell PTO,” Ms. Magaziner said. She also joined a group known as Save Our Schools, which battled against school budget cuts in the mid-1980s, when her oldest son Seth (now general treasurer of the State of Rhode Island) was in first grade.

Seth is the oldest Magaziner, followed by Jonathan, at attorney working in Boston, and Sarah, who recently began her medical residency in pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center. All three graduated from Brown University.

The Fourth of July

One of the holidays that always pulls the family back to Bristol is the Fourth of July.

“I’ve never missed one since 1981. My kids have never missed one. They’re typical Bristolians. They come home for the Fourth of July,” Ms. Magaziner said.

“When the kids were young, it was hard to get them out of bed, so my good friend and I would get up at 4 in the morning and meet for coffee at Sip ’n Dip, put out the blankets and talk for eight hours or however long it took, until the kids walked from home and met up with us.”

More recently, her daughter has taken over the duties of securing a parade viewing spot. “I’m not going to tell you her location because it’s privileged information, but now my friend and I get to sleep in and the roles are reversed,” Ms. Magaziner laughed.

“We really are diehards. We love the Fourth of July, the concerts, the fireworks, the drum corps shows,” Ms. Magaziner said. “I’m sad that we won’t have all that this year.”

Volunteer work

Since retiring, Ms. Magaziner has devoted much of her time to volunteer work. She is currently chairwoman of the board of directors for Trinity Repertory Company, an organization she holds dear.

“Most people think of the wonderful plays, and that’s a very important part of Trinity’s identity, but it’s a small part of what they do,” Ms. Magaziner said. “They reach out to so many populations to try to introduce them to arts, to make them feel included.” She is proud of the work Trinity does to bring arts into the community, where it often performs in public spaces where non-English-speaking populations who can’t or don’t go to the theater can experience the arts.

Another of her true loves is Sophia Academy. She has been on the board of directors since shortly after it was founded 18 years ago by Sister Mary Reilly, also a Bristol resident.

Sister Reilly first founded Dorcas Place as a way to improve literacy among young women. “After a number of years, she realized that they weren’t getting to girls early enough. By the time they had children and were then trying to learn to read, it was too late. So she realized that the time to get to them was in middle school, because that’s the time they begin to come into their own, when they begin to notice boys, when role modeling and gender modeling begin to set in,” Ms. Magaziner said.

Such is the mission of Sophia Academy — to lift middle school-age teen girls out of disadvantaged situations, instill confidence and give them opportunities. “The most important thing is that it’s based in social justice as well. These girls are taught that they have a voice, and they should be heard,” Ms. Magaziner said.

Talking about Sophia, she relayed a story about the graduation ceremony one year. The head of school asked one of the girls and her family to stand so she could talk about her. But only the eighth-grader stood; her family had missed the bus and no one was there.

“One by one, the other eighth-graders stood up and said, ‘I’m her family,’ ‘I’m her family,’ ‘I’m her family.’ I still get teary telling that story,” Ms. Magaziner said.

Being asked to be chief marshal

Ms. Magaziner did not know Ms. Martins very well last fall (the town have become much closer since).

“There was this wonderful woman who came up to me and said, ‘I’d love to have coffee with you sometime.’ And I thought, ‘well, isn’t that nice.’ ”

They chose a place in Warren — “In retrospect, that now makes sense,” Ms. Magaziner said — and Ms. Martins asked the older women if she would serve as chief marshal for the nation’s oldest, continuous Independence Day celebration.

“I was flabbergasted. I was speechless. It was stunning to me, because there are so many wonderful people in Bristol who do wonderful things for the town and for the state. But she was persuasive.”

Since then, the world has changed quite a bit. The coronavirus took over all aspects of life, and most everything associated with the Fourth of July celebration has been changed, canceled or put on hold. Through it all, Ms. Magaziner and Ms. Martins have maintained a constant dialogue.

“Every two weeks, it seemed, we had to recalibrate,” Ms. Magaziner said. “And Michelle is so positive. Nothing is ever a bother, even though it means completely redefining the holiday. She would be apologizing to me, and I’d tell her, ‘I’m sorry for you and what you’re going through.’ ”

A good chief marshal for these times

Ms. Magaziner and Ms. Martins both believe this is a great year for the former to be chief marshal.

“I wish this hadn’t happened, for a lot of reasons,” said Ms. Magaziner. “But given that it happened, I think it’s an honor to be chief marshal during this time … My ultimate message is one of optimism. This is a difficult time, but we will get through this, and we will be better. That’s part of the message of this Fourth of July — People aren’t sure if this will ever be over. It will be. And we will come through this stronger. ”

Ms. Martins continues juggling the what-if scenarios, trying to figure out what may or may not happen on July 4 in Bristol. One things she’s certain of is her choice for chief marshal.

“Whatever this celebration is going to be, we need some kind of light at the end of this tunnel,” Ms. Martins said. “Suzanne is such a great representative for this year.”

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.