Susan Heath Sharp was an inspiration to those who knew her. She had an amazing drive that led her to become successful in two challenging professions, accounting and law, while never letting her professional life intrude on the more important arenas of her family and faith. Late in the evening on July 4, 2021, Susan’s long, heroic and sometimes even cheerful
fight with ALS came to an end.
Susan was born December 17, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Neil Gilbert Raatz, a police officer, and Marlay Barbee, a banker. She attended local Milwaukee schools and then became, with her brother, the first generation of her family to obtain a higher education. She attended Drake University and then Indiana University, where she obtained her B.S in accounting with highest distinction. She passed the CPA exam in 1978 and worked in public accounting as an audit manager with a national public accounting firm, first in Texas and then in Tampa, specializing in real estate development and banking issues.
After she settled in South Tampa, she almost immediately found sense of community and fellowship that was with her until her final moments. With the birth of her children, Susan abandoned her promising career in accounting to become a full-time mother and devoted herself to raising the children for the next fifteen years. And during that time, she raised two beautiful and accomplished daughters and an extremely intelligent and handsome son. (If you didn’t think so, all you had to do was ask her.) She always had pictures of her children close at hand and always smiled as she spoke about them.
When, still inspired by the Perry Mason episodes she watched as a child, and with the idea of making sure that, in her words, “justice was done,” Susan began her quest for a second career in law. With her children still in school, she could be found studying her law books during breaks in her daughters’ high school volleyball games and at other activities of her son and daughters. After dinner in her house, Susan and the kids had a two hour “study hall.”
After graduating from Stetson University College of Law and passing the bar examination, she accepted an offer to practice insolvency and bankruptcy law with Stichter, Riedel, Blain and Postler, where she became a shareholder. Hundreds of clients benefitted from her thoughtful and compassionate advice and vigorous advocacy, and her training as an accountant made her a perfect fit as she focused her efforts on resuscitating struggling businesses. She was held in high regard by her colleagues in the bar and by members of the judiciary, as reflected by the numerous peer-review accolades and honors that she received. She also gave back generously to the bar and community, particularly in enhancing the
provision of legal services to the indigent.
Susan went through hard times, particularly the loss of her infant daughter, Jennifer, and her daughter, Allison, who died in a fatal car wreck a few years ago. Jennifer’s death led to Susan’s renewed search for answers to the big questions of life, death, suffering, and eternity. She was invited to Bible Study Fellowship, which she attended for many years and ultimately became an instructor herself, and she developed a faith and assurance that let her cope with the unimaginable tragedies of Allison’s death and her diagnosis with ALS. When she was interviewed about the loss of Jennifer and Allison, she said she was not sad because she knew she would see them again.
And, as those who knew Susan heard many times, her standard response when asked how she was doing was, as the disease increasingly incapacitated her body – but not her spirit or her mind, “Fabulous” or “Great,” was always followed by “How are you?” As was typical, she shifted the conversation from her to you. During Lou Gehrig’s immortal good-bye at Yankee Stadium, he said that notwithstanding his ALS, “he was the luckiest man alive.” Susan, notwithstanding the disease and her losses, felt the same way.
Susan had many interests outside of the law. She was an excellent golfer and ran multiple half marathons. As a Wisconsin native, she had a lifelong love affair with the Green Bay Packers. Her physical vitality, her many interests, and the birth of her grandchildren made the ALS disease particularly difficult, but Susan knew that “if her earthly house, the tent that she dwelt in, were to be dismantled, she would have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens.” Susan is no longer imprisoned by her failing body but now has a new dwelling house not built by human hands. Our loss is Heaven’s gain. Her heroism in the face of suffering will be an inspiration forever to those who knew her. She will be greatly missed.
Susan leaves behind her mother, Marlay Barbee of Treasure Island; her brother Steven Raatz of Milwaukee; her daughter Amy Heath Patenaude and her husband, Jeffery Patenaude, and their children Heath and Edith (Edie), of Tampa; and her son William “Wiley” Sharp Jr. and his wife, Laura Marie Jagielski, of Fort Lauderdale. She was preceded in death by her father Neil Gilbert Raatz of Milwaukee and her daughters, Jennifer Heath Sharp and Allison Elizabeth Sharp both of Tampa.