WALNUT CREEK -- The schools community is mourning the sudden loss of Susan Bigham, president of the Walnut Heights Elementary PTA and longtime advocate for schools and children.

She died Sunday, two days after suffering a heart attack. She was 43.

"In my 40 year career in education, she's one of the most dedicated parents I've had the pleasure to work with," said Patricia Wool, superintendent of the Walnut Creek School District. "Her loss is enormous for the Walnut Creek School District community. Everyone is in shock from the sudden passing of such a vibrant, amazing woman."

As word of her loss spread Monday, a memorial wall of flowers, cards and balloons formed near the entrance of Walnut Heights, where Susan was a near-constant presence as classroom volunteer, nature area proponent, PTA president, fundraiser and loving mom. Dozens of students wore tie-dye shirts to school this week in her honor.

She was, in the words of Walnut Heights Principal Dr. Kathleen Scott, a "school community member extraordinaire."

"Susan left her fingerprints on every part of our school," Scott said. "She volunteered, led, played, laughed, donated. She sprang into action whenever and wherever she saw a need. She was a loving leader, yet always a bold advocate for kids."

In addition to advocating for education, she coached her son's Little League baseball team and was a Cub Scout den leader (Troop 239).

"I remember when I first moved here thinking that Susan had a twin sister or possibly she was a triplet," said Phillip Winland. "I couldn't figure out how she could possibly be at school one minute filing papers in the office and then the next minute she was showing my son how to pull his arm back to throw a baseball at practice."

Linda Ghysels, a teacher at Walnut Heights, recalled Susan as one of the most engaged volunteers that she's seen in 26 years of teaching, with a special knack for connecting with the students. "She would get down on the floor with kids, be curious with them, and help them find answers when she didn't know."

Thursday's "Play It Forward" concert at the Lesher Center for the Arts, a Walnut Creek Education Foundation fundraiser that Susan actively promoted and planned to attend, will now be dedicated to her memory. (See "School Notes" column in this edition). The foundation has made a block of tickets available to tonight's concert; For more information on the event, visit http://www.wcefk12.org/events/ playitforward.php. Donations in Susan's name may be made on the WCEF website.

Susan is survived by her husband of 15 years Dane and their sons Jason and Graham; by her parents, Will and Linda Gassett of Palos Verdes, and by innumerable friends, family and community members.

Susan Bigham
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 23 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1924 Trinity Ave. in Walnut Creek.