A Mighty Heart: Sue Cranford

By Connie Barnard

A Mighty Heart: Sue Cranford

Ask anyone in Sue Cranford’s huge circle of friends to describe her, and most will just start laughing at the memory of a funny prank, a salty joke or the mere thought of her mile-wide smile and mischievous eyes. Many have known Sue and her husband Jimmy since they moved to Myrtle Beach over 35 years ago. Sandra Adams says, “Sue and I have laughed, cried, danced, prayed and raised our children together. I admire her for many reasons, but her ability to lighten up a situation is one of her most admirable talents. That woman can find the funny in anything and help you realize that as dark as something looks, you’ll get through it.” “Sue’s sense of humor runs from G-rated to an occasional R, and I love her for that.” Billie Hudson adds, “That smile rarely disappears. You can be in a real funk and one talk with her makes it all go away.” These BFFs love Sue’s sunny, funny approach to living all the more because they have traveled with her through the very depths of despair and found joy and laughter in the midst of deep grief.

All who know her will tell you that Sue’s heart is as big as her smile. By natural instinct she is drawn to help those in need, particularly young people. With a degree in special education, she worked with the profoundly disabled, then taught pre-school for many years. When her sons Chad and Shaun were in school, Sue began helping out, lending a hand whenever needs arose. Myrtle Beach High School Guidance Counselor Cookie Goings, says, “Long before Hope House, Sue and a few ladies were conducting an ‘underground railroad’ to help our kids.” Jackie Hendrix says, “We call ourselves the ‘church ladies.’” Over the years they have assisted with countless individual emergencies as well as larger efforts to provide basic supplies for needy students in the Myrtle Beach schools. Sue claims no credit for these good deeds. “None of this is about me. It is said that we all have a gift from God. Mine must be the gift of gab. When there is a need, all I have to do is talk and others give. This is an incredibly caring community.”

Sue’s close friends admit that sometimes they call her “Saint Sue” when she is on one of her crusades. They’ll also tell you she can be stubborn. Cookie Goings says, “If she tells you she’s not going to do something, trust me, she ain’t gonna to do it.” Billie Hudson adds, “Sue truly listens to you and hardly ever judges. But boy, will she tell you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not.” It is that direct honesty that makes her friendship special. Flo Calliham says, “When I need someone to act as a barometer, Sue is the person I know I can call. I trust her to tell me when I’m wrong and know that I love her for it…She will go head first into the lion’s den if she believes she can bring comfort to someone who has suffered a loss.” These good friends also share tales about Sue’s love of ACC basketball, and her former life as a teen-age roller skate diva – complete with pom poms on her skates. She also enjoys nothing more than a good prank, often intended to lift the spirits of a friend who’s down. Just ask her close friend Susan Usry about that sometime!

Those who know Sue Cranford will also tell you that, above all else, she is brave, daily displaying a courage forged in the fire of tragedy. On December 10, 1996, her son Chad was completing his first semester at Clemson. In the midst of exams, he walked into his dorm room, said to his room-mate: “I don’t feel…,” then collapsed and never regained consciousness. Tests revealed that Chad had suffered ventricular fibrillation, a medical phenomenon in which his heart skipped a beat and failed to kick back into its natural rhythm.

The Cranford family and the Myrtle Beach and Clemson communities were in deep shock. At Myrtle Beach High School pre-holiday halls were strangely silent as words of Chad’s death spread through the school. Then, in silent tribute, photos of Chad in his multi-color “Sweat Hog” spirit wig appeared on walls throughout the school. Friends and family clung to one another in shocked disbelief. Sue says it was fifteen year old Shaun who helped the family hold on: “It was Shaun’s faith that got us through those days. We held on to one another, and Shaun held us together.”

In the weeks and month to follow, Sue drew on the support of her friends and her early roots in her North Carolina hometown, the rural community of Midland, where faith and love were infused with an understanding that life is fragile, and God is not to blame. Sandra Adams says, “Sue was acutely aware of the statistics regarding how losing a child can destroy the family unit. She told me from the get-go that she would not let this happen. I knew even in her darkest hour that she would fight to hold and heal her family, and she did.”

Shaun also found support from a network of caring friends throughout the greater Myrtle Beach community. One extraordinary gentleman in particular, Billy Dillard, became close to Shaun through his work with the Episcopal faith journey, Chrysalis. Over time Billy became both a mentor and guardian angel to the young boy and, unbeknownst to Shaun, kept Sue apprised of how he was handling the burden of grief and loneliness for his brother. Even after Shaun went off to Clemson, Billy was still there for him, occasionally driving up for a quick visit just to check on him. Today Shaun is an attorney living in Columbia with his wife Allison and their little boy Will (whose middle name is Chadwick). They are eagerly awaiting the July arrival a baby girl who, no doubt, will share her Grandmother Sue’s loving and lively spirit.

Looking back, Sue says, “Even though I have led grief workshops, I can clearly say that there are no rules, no roadmaps. Time and faith can lead to acceptance. When the time is right, move beyond yourself. Cherish something.” Sue and Jimmy came to realize that the best way for them to move from bitter to better was by channeling their grief into positive energy to help other young people. Jimmy volunteered with the Myrtle Beach High School football program, and Sue became involved wherever there was a need. Shortly after Chad’s death, she worked with Horry County athletic directors to equip schools with defibrillators. When Sue and Jimmy became aware of a hunger problem among students who did not qualify for assistance, Sue says, “Once again, I just used my mouth, and we quickly collected $2,000 for meal tickets. It is this incredible community that gives so much. I just send use my mouth to relay the needs.”

While still deep in the valley of the shadow of grief, Sue and Jimmy did not hesitate to assist when they learned about the heart-rending challenges faced by a young MBHS football player whose mother was terminally ill in Columbia. Each Friday night he would ride the bus to care for her, sleep in her hospital room, then ride back home to care for his sister. Sue helped out financially and stood in for his mother when she was too ill to attend Senior Awards Night, and even presented him with a yearbook he’d not had the resources to order. The young man’s mother died a short time later, and Sue and her “church ladies” moved him into new housing. They were there during his final year of school and helped him attend Horry Georgetown Tech.

The Cranfords wanted to create a lasting way to keep Chad’s memory alive and assist worthy young people. With the support of many friends, they established the Chadwick Kyle Cranford Memorial Scholarship which provides a deserving Myrtle Beach High Senior with a $1,000 scholarship annually for four years. Of all the honors presented at the Awards Night program each year, this one is probably the most highly coveted. Beth and Tommy Campbell’s son Wilson was its 2009 recipient. Beth said, “The monetary help was wonderful, but to receive a scholarship in memory of a fine young man like Chad made it more special.” Wilson is about to begin a doctoral program in physical therapy, thanks in part to this special honor.” Cookie Goings, whose son EJ received the award in 2012, said, “Before writing the required essay, EJ learned a lot about Chad’s quiet sense of leadership. He was so honored because he felt a true spiritual connection with Chad.”

Today Sue and Jim Cranford have moved on – literally. The spacious Dunes Cove home where they raised Chad and Shaun will now belongs to a young couple with little children of their own. In preparation for the move, Sue tackled the one challenge she had yet to face: Chad’s room – untouched since that December day over sixteen years ago. One treasured item given a place of honor in their new home is Chad’s architectural engineering class project given to the Cranfords by his professor: an airy formation of connected triangles symbolizing the bond between Chad and his brother – strong invisible connections of support and love, like those shared by his mother with all fortunate enough to know her.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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One Response to “A Mighty Heart: Sue Cranford”

  1. Kelly Catanese says:

    What a beautiful article for an amazing woman!!

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