Obituary: William M. Suit / Former Shaler principal fought rare cancer for years

July 15, 1951 - Dec. 17, 2013

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Even after all the surgeries, all the chemotherapy treatments and clinical trials, Bill Suit was still giving, still doing, still believing.

Having survived his sarcoma for years, he counseled fellow cancer patients at the Hillman Cancer Center, lobbied on Capitol Hill for additional research and kept in touch with former students from his days as principal of Shaler Area High School.

William M. Suit

Since his death, many people have thanked his widow, Sue Suit, for sharing her husband with them and with the world, she said. But her husband's spirit was too big to be contained; he needed to be shared with the world, despite his often-painful struggle with cancer over nearly seven years, Mrs. Suit said.

In short, he still had a job to do.

"A walking miracle, I call him," she said Friday. "The good Lord wasn't done with him yet -- I told him he wasn't going anywhere until the Lord was ready for him."

Mr. Suit, of Pine and Shaler, died of complications from sarcoma on Tuesday. He was 62.

Born in July 1951, Mr. Suit was the son of Margaret and the late Mike F. Suit. He grew up in Beaver Falls, graduating from Beaver Falls High School in 1969.

He earned a bachelor's degree in education from Slippery Rock University in 1973, followed by a master's in guidance from Slippery Rock and later, his principal's certification and superintendent certificate from Westminster College, his wife said. He also attended the University of Akron.

After graduating from Slippery Rock, Mr. Suit began teaching at Riverside Middle School, while also coaching high school football for the district. He became assistant principal of the high school in 1989, then took a job as a middle school principal in Chambersburg, followed by a stint from 1992 to 1995 at South Side Beaver High School. He then served as principal at Shaler Area High School from 1996 to his retirement in 2009.

Mr. Suit so loved his job as principal that, while he had the necessary qualifications to work as a superintendent, he decided not to pursue the opportunity, his wife said. And even after he was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects approximately 15,000 Americans each year, he continued working until multiple surgeries made that too difficult.

As a principal, Mr. Suit was the kind of person students naturally gravitated toward, said Melissa McQuade, who graduated from Shaler in 2007 and then earned a degree in elementary education from Kutztown University in 2011.

"He just genuinely cared about each child and wanted to make each child feel special in their own way," Ms. McQuade said.

"If they needed help or just needed someone to talk to, you could go in his office and talk to him and he was just completely non-judgmental -- even when I didn't have a problem, I would go and talk to him."

Even after she left for college, Sue and Bill Suit kept in touch with little notes, and in 2010 joined her parents on a four-hour trip to see her score her thousandth point playing basketball in her junior year, she said.

"They were such good friends and mentors to me all through college," Ms. McQuade said.

Mr. Suit was a member of the WPIAL Hall of Fame committee and chaired the Shaler Area Hall of Fame committee. He was nominated for Pennsylvania Principal of the Year in 2008 and served as the Northern Principals Association Chair, Middle States Visiting Team in 2005, Student Assistance Team Member and also was a member of Phi Delta Kappa.

He was a co-founder of the Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma Committee, served as race director for the 5K run and helped raise more than $300,000 toward funding a cure for the disease. He also served as state chapter director for the Sarcoma Foundation of America, and lobbied lawmakers in February for better funding and research for a sarcoma cure.

Through his struggle with cancer for nearly seven years, Mr. Suit helped many people around him appreciate their own lives, said senior pastor Kurt Bjorklund of Orchard Hill Church, to which the Suits belong.

"He really was somebody who communicated hope to others in the midst of his own pain and impending death, which was encouraging to a lot of people," Mr. Bjorklund said. "He didn't avoid the hard questions but he kept landing back at a place of saying life is a gift and I'm not owed 'x' number of years, and I am going to focus on what I've been given rather than what I don't have."

Mr. Suit is survived by his wife and four children: Robert McDonald, Jennifer Drake, Maggie Tkatch and Annie Clark.

Memorials are suggested to be sent to Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma "Root for Suit," P.O. Box 194, Gibsonia, PA 15044 or to the William Suit Scholarship Fund at Shaler Area High School, 381 Wible Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15209.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.



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