Susann Farrell, Beloved Children’s Librarian, Dies of Cancer at 47

Susann Farrell at her desk inside the John Jermain Memorial Library.
Susann Farrell at her desk near the children’s section inside the John Jermain Memorial Library.

By Stephen J. Kotz

On Saturday, someone tossed a pair of red, high-top Converse All-Star sneakers over a power line outside the John Jermain Memorial Library. Like the cards and flowers crowding an empty desk on the library’s ground floor, they are a memorial to children’s librarian Susann Farrell, whose wardrobe contained an extensive collection of the sneakers favored by the young and the young at heart. Ms. Farrell, 47, died Thursday at her home in Flanders with her family at her side after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer just a month earlier.

“Susann was just the brightest light here at the library,” said library director Catherine Creedon on Tuesday. “In a profession where trained librarians tend to be almost uniformly introverts, Susann was that rare combination of a truly joyful extrovert who also happened to have really good library chops.”

Ms. Creedon said her colleague was “the face of the library,” making regular visits to the Sag Harbor Elementary School’s morning program, the Rainbow School prekindergarten program, and public events.

Ms. Creedon said Ms. Farrell, who was responsible for developing the library’s children’s services “from the ground up,” had led story time just a week before going on sick leave in early April. The death of the popular librarian hit patrons and staffers equally hard. “Everyone is just devastated,” she said.

Eric Cohen, the library’s technology director, who served as acting co-director for a time shortly after Ms. Farrell joined the staff in 2005, said it was easy to assume that Ms. Farrell was simply someone with a bubbly personality. “It took me a long time to get her,” he said, his eyes wet with tears. “I didn’t see the serious person beneath the effervescence. She was very thoughtful about the state of the world, animals, her family.”

“It was very clear she liked children,” he continued, with Ms. Creedon adding, “and they loved her. What has become clear the last few weeks is the number of people where she made a real difference in their lives.”

Rita Skerys, another library staff member, said Ms. Farrell understood the at-risk kids “who aren’t a part of the crowd” and might be found at the library alone.

Ms. Farrell, who grew up in New Jersey, attended the University of Maryland, where she played saxophone in the marching band, something she was very proud of, her family said. She later transferred to Georgian Court University in New Jersey and embarked on a career as a first grade teacher.

While she was a teacher she reconnected with a childhood sweetheart, James T. Farrell, and they were married on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000 and moved to Hampton Bays. Mr. Farrell, who grew up in northern New Jersey, said he was introduced to his future wife by way of a telephone call arranged by mutual friends, who thought they would get along. Although the teenagers did hit it off, they drifted apart during high school, he said.

Years later, “she ended up randomly calling my house and talking to my mother,” he said. “She left her number with my mom and I called and we were together ever since the end of 1998.”

After the couple moved to Hampton Bays, Ms. Farrell attended the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, where she obtained a master’s degree in library science and then joined the John Jermain staff.

Besides her love for the children she served at the library, Mr. Farrell said his wife was dedicated to their two children, Catherine, 16, and James, 14. “She worked tirelessly to give them a good life with her unwavering love and devotion,” the family said.

Ms. Farrell also had a soft spot for cats and always owned several. “When we moved to Long Island, I think we brought 11 or 12 with us,” her husband said. She later served as president of SAVES, a Riverhead organization, which stands for Spay Alter Vaccinate Every Stray, and helps rescue feral cats. “She found homes for most of the kittens and fixed the adults,” Mr. Farrell said.

He said his wife was a big fan of the British science fiction program, “Dr. Who,” and was a member of the New York Ghost Hunting Team for several years, joining after the group searched for paranormal activity at the library in 2008.

Ms. Farrell, an only child, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on February 11, 1970 to Cathy (Parcels) and Paul Matteson, who are both deceased. She spent most of her childhood in Surf City, New Jersey, and enjoyed spending time with her grandparents on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Besides her husband and children, Ms. Farrell is survived by many aunts, uncles, and cousins, her family said.

In lieu of flowers, cards of condolence can be sent to the family at 26 Fanning Road, Flanders 11901. There is also a GoFundMe page,

There will be a memorial gathering at the library at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19 — Ms. Creedon encouraged attendees to wear their Chuck Taylors — and the family is planning a memorial gathering at Indian River County Park in Riverhead on Sunday, July 29, at noon, with details to be announced.