Swiss Bear bids Farewell to Community Leader, Susan Moffat-Thomas

Tom McGraw emceed the Retirement Celebration for Susan Moffat-Thomas. He shared his first experience with Susan in this special story with us. He said, Susan “paved the way” for the Ship Hauling Machine’s “ultimate installation in Lawson Creek Park as a tribute to New Bern’s longtime and somewhat forgotten ship building history.” Although it took 10 years for the unveiling ceremony, it’s a classic example of “Susan’s persistence and tenacity of project management”.

Former New Bern City Manager, Bill Hartman, partnered with Susan over 22 years to work on numerous projects. Susan would ask him for approval of projects and time and time again he wondered how they would come up with the money to pay for them. Susan assured him that she would take care of the fundraising. And she did. From the restoration of Baxter’s Clock to the New Bern-Craven County Riverfront Convention Center, Susan rallied the community and many agencies for support.

It was obvious that Bill Hartman respected Susan Moffat-Thomas and they became good friends. In his remarks, he referred to Susan, as “a kind, witty, and honest person”. He went on to say, “Her agenda was New Bern and it didn’t matter who got the credit. She was interested in making sure that New Bern turned into the type of place you see today”. He was right on by saying, “She doesn’t seek glory, but glory seeks her”. His words rang true when he said, “you have no idea how much you’re going to miss her. You’ll never replace her”.

Dr. Charles Ashford supported Swiss Bear’s efforts on many projects. He painted a picture of New Bern as a rural town in his youth and the transformation to the Downtown it is today. Working together, Dr. Ashford and Susan Moffat-Thomas convinced the City to fund the restoration of Council Bluff Green which is considered the founding site of New Bern in 1710.

Dr. Ashford considered, “Swiss Bear and Susan as one in the same. Susan knows how to get people included and put folks to work. She brought the community together, created partnerships with citizens, Local, State, and Federal Government. She’s helped raise over $200 Million and there are still so many things to be done.”

Attorney J. Troy Smith, Jr. worked with Susan Moffat-Thomas to advocate the construction of the $120 Million Neuse River Bridge. Troy Smith said, “She’s not and has not been Executive Director of Swiss Bear. She’s led, she’s been a leader. The rest of us are followers. Susan has produced results for our community beyond what a single leader has done at least in my tenure in this community”.

District Court Judge Louise Flanagan joined forces with Susan Moffat-Thomas for the restoration of New Bern’s old Federal Courthouse, which would become the home of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Judge Flanagan said, “Swiss Bear helped form a dialogue and that dialoged promoted a shared desire to see that the Courthouse was full renovated by 2010 to celebrate its 75th year in existence” in conjunction with New Bern’s 300th Year Anniversary. She said, “We’re the busiest group of judges in a five state region. We serve 44 counties. I have about 700 cases on my docket as do my colleagues. This Courthouse is imperative to help serve the public. I’m grateful to be in the right place in New Bern at the time of Susan Moffat-Thomas.” This successful collaboration resulted in a major renovation of what many call one of the most beautiful courthouses in the United States.

Former NC Governor Beverly Perdue and Susan Moffat-Thomas have been long time friends. Gov. Perdue said, “When I think of leaders who have made a real difference, there’s nobody who comes to mind more than Susan Moffat-Thomas. That’s why I was so delighted to be the Governor who could allow Susan Moffat-Thomas to receive the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, which is this State’s highest honor.”

Gov. Perdue was so right when she said, “All of us have been players on her (Susan’s) stage as we have worked to make big, bold things happen for New Bern, North Carolina”.

Susan Moffat-Thomas expressed her gratitude for “the outpouring of support and recognition extended to me for my role in the Downtown efforts. It has been a very rewarding career that I absolutely cherish”.

Susan said, “When I was growing up, I loved to read biographies and autobiographies of people who have made a difference; strong leaders, inventors, scientists. As I child and as an adult, I had an inner passion that I too wanted to make a real contribution to the greater good of the community.”

She didn’t know how her passion could be realized as she talked about being a stay at home mother of four in Connecticut. She was discouraged when she found out that they had to move to Eastern NC. When her Mother called, she gave her an inspirational talk and believed that Susan would find her niche when she moved to New Bern in the late 1970s. “The timing of the move couldn’t have been better. New Bern was dealing with a crisis, the downtown and its waterfront was dying and the leadership of the city was beginning to unite to turn the downtown around.”

She worked at the Chamber and her passion for the Downtown began to ignite. Then she worked at the New Bern Preservation Foundation and finally found her way to Swiss Bear. At Swiss Bear, she “learned and grew the skills of leadership quality”. By being a part of New Bern’s revitalization effort, her inner passion remained the same. “To make a difference has been realized and I’m better for it. I appreciate the opportunity for being part of an organization and an effort that transformed a dying downtown. Downtown is now a destination. It’s an economic engine that’s driving growth and development in this city. We are recognized nationally as a Main Street success story.” She said, “My dear mother was right. Who could ask for more?”

The event concluded as Susan Moffat-Thomas presented a special gift to Tom McGraw, who served Swiss Bear’s organization for many years. Tom McGraw presented Susan with the “Susan Moffat-Thomas Swiss Bear Digital Archive” that was created for researchers, schools, and libraries. Tom McGraw and Danielle Glynn presented Susan with a beautiful piece of artwork created by Jan Francoeur of Carolina Creations. This stunning vase highlights numerous projects like the Spider Lily project, F11 Fighter Jet, Council Bluff Green, Neuse River Bridge, Ship Hauling Machine, Union Point Park, among many other revitalization efforts.

I encourage people to follow Susan’s work ethic to “Do whatever you have to do to get the job done”.

Special thanks to Susan’s longtime Executive Assistant, Danielle Glynn, for coordinating this special event; Larry Taylor for producing the slide show; Larry Conley Photography; The Flame Restaurant and Banquet Center, The New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, Carolina Creations; Swiss Board Members and Volunteers; and Event Sponsors.

We wish Susan and her husband, John Thomas, the very best in your future endeavors. Susan has been an inspiration to me. I really appreciate her advice and friendship. She will be truly missed, but I’m sure she will continue to make her mark on our community as one door closes, another opens.


Wendy Card