OAKLAND -- When Sue Piper retired last Friday from her position as Mayor Jean Quan's communications manager, her plans for her first Monday off the job were blissfully free of political stress. There would be no urgent phone calls, no meetings to attend, and no wall of reporters hounding the first female Asian-American mayor of a major U.S. city.
"I'll just get up at 5:30 in the morning like I always do and walk the dog," Piper said with a chuckle.
After more than 40 years of public relations, marketing communications, and community organizing, Piper is ready for a break. She definitely plans to stay in Oakland, but she wants to take it a bit easier.
"I'm not going anywhere," she said. "I'm still going to be involved in the community, but I really want to slow down and focus on spending time with my family, traveling, and exploring parts of me that I haven't yet had a chance to explore. I have a blank canvas in front of me and I can be anyone I want to be for the next 20 or 30 years -- and I do expect to live that long."
First plan: Stay healthy. Next: Learn a second language.
"I plan to learn Spanish because I think it's a good idea and because my daughter is married to a Panamanian," Piper said.
That daughter, Joanna Cuevas-Ingram, is one of three children Piper has with her husband of 41 years, Oakland Landscape Committee chair Gordon Piper. Cuevas-Ingram, 30, is a graduate of UC Davis School of Law and a fellow at the
Living in Oakland -- and surviving the Oakland hills firestorm of 1991 -- has been a dominant factor in all of their lives. The twins were just 3 and Joanna was barely 9 when their house burned to the ground. The 1,520-acre fire killed 25 people, injured 150 others, and destroyed 3,354 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units, according to an Oakland Fire Department report.
"It really was a life-changing experience," Piper said. "It shaped our lives in so many different ways. The night of the fire, my husband and I looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we should just move out of here.' And then we said, 'No, we're not going to do that.'"
The Pipers rebuilt and were among the first wave of people who returned to the neighborhood. Piper became an ardent campaigner for emergency preparedness.
"My husband redid the entrance to Hiller Highlands with the Firestorm Memorial Garden because he wanted to make sure that when people came back they had something beautiful to look at," Piper said. "Every day my daughter thanks me for not moving out of Oakland. Living in this wonderful city with all of its diversity has made her who she is. I love this city. People are here because they want to be here and they want to make a difference. I salute all of them."