Susan Roberta Playfair, of Cambridge and formerly of Cohasset, died after a short illness on February 7. One of the first female stockbrokers in Boston, she described herself as a maverick with a varied working background, and she also worked as a fashion designer, an interior designer, and an author throughout her long career.
Born in 1940 in Plymouth, Susan grew up sailing and exploring cranberry bogs and clam flats in Duxbury, where she was the first female lifeguard on Duxbury Beach. These childhood experiences blossomed into a lifetime love of the ocean and of the outdoors. She spent many happy years sailing on Buzzards Bay with her late husband Richard J. O’Connell and her daughter on their Alden yawl Whisper, and she traveled around the world exploring coral reefs in Fiji, bird-watching in Patagonia, and learning more about nature everywhere from Martinique to Hawaii.
Susan’s love of beauty extended beyond the natural world to fashion, art, and design. She graduated from Bard College, where she later served on the Board of Governors, with a degree in fine arts. She also studied for two years at Parsons School of Design and took courses at the French Fashion Academy, the Art Students League, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. After working on Wall Street and then as an investment executive for Goodbody & Company in Boston for several years, Susan opened The Sunspot in Gloucester, where she sold clothes designed from imported fabric printed with woodblocks. She then became a fashion designer in her own right, selling her resort wear designs under the Playfair name to Bergdorf Goodman and other buyers. In the 1980s, Susan’s career shifted from fashion design to contract interior design, and she established Interaction, which provided interior design to commercial clients around New England, including New England Baptist Hospital and One Liberty Square in Boston.
Susan’s varied careers reflected her curiosity and constant desire to learn more about the world. Her interests all combined in her final career as an author, where she published books about the changing nature of New England industries tied to the land and the sea. She published Vanishing Species: Saving the Fish, Sacrificing the Fishermen in 2003 and America’s Founding Fruit: The Cranberry in a New Environment in 2014, both with University Press of New England.
Susan was known for bringing joy to everyone around her, and it was impossible not to share her curiosity and optimism when in her presence. She is survived by her sisters, Marsha Hurd of York, South Carolina, and Holly DiMauro of Tiverton, Rhode Island; her daughter, Lily Faulhaber, son-in-law, Kwaku Akowuah, and granddaughter, Evelyn Akowuah, all of Washington, D.C.; her stepson, Tom Faulhaber, stepdaughter-in-law, Sonia Cantu, and two step-grandchildren, Thomas and Penelope Faulhaber, all of Seattle; her cousins, Richard Baker of Pembroke and Debby Tate of Plymouth; her nephew, Jamie Bornhofft, of Sandwich; and her two nieces, Betsy Lamitina of Pittsburgh and Emily Merrill of Fort Mill, South Carolina.
A celebration of her life will be planned once it is safe for her many loved ones to gather in person. Donations can be given in her memory to Manomet at www.manomet.org or to Bard College at www.annandaleonline.org/bcf.