Obituaries » Marilyn Sue Hager
Sue Hager, faithful follower of Christ, passed away peacefully at dawn on June 7, 2022. She was 76.
Sue was preceded in death by her parents, Leonard “Sut” Green Setliff and Annie Beatrice “Bea” Martin Setliff Hopkins; and her brother, Jerold Ronald Setliff. Sue is survived by her son, Gavin Hager (Rose); daughter, Gretchen Hager Tipps (Ryan); four beloved grandchildren, Emma Hager, Anson Hager, Everett Tipps and Josephine Tipps; her sister, Jeannette Stone (Larkin); five nieces and nephews; dearest friend Charlotte Brooks; and many extended family members and devoted friends.
Sue spent her early childhood darting, free-range, between her home in downtown Fieldale and the Fieldale Cafe, owned by her parents, the locally famous and well-respected Sut and Bea. As she grew up, she spent most of her time after school and during school lunches in and around the cafe, peacefully playing with dolls, doing homework at a booth, waiting on customers and otherwise helping her parents, and generally avoiding the arguments and fisticuffs of her siblings. She regularly frequented the Fieldale Community Center and pool, and later in life, she was a vocal champion of its renovation and reopening.
She graduated from Fieldale High School, which she adored, in 1964, and though she hadn’t yet learned to drive, she enrolled at Ferrum Junior College, which she was intimidated by initially but came to love. After graduation in 1966, she enrolled at Radford University, which she disliked due to the distance from her beloved home and family. Yet she persevered, graduating in 1968. She ultimately was glad for the experience away from home, as it taught her that while she enjoyed traveling, Henry County would always be where she belonged — and that she should learn to drive.
As an adult, Sue spent 35 years teaching high school classes. At first, her courses focused on typing, and as technology advanced, her continuing education courses nudged her toward teaching business. Sue mentored countless young people in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) at Laurel Park High School. Throughout her life, she was never able to be incognito in public, as she was often recognized at every store or business by former students, much to the chagrin of her not-so-patient children.
Sue maintained and nurtured strong childhood friendships throughout her lifetime. These relationships were often strengthened via a plethora of volunteer organizations. In retirement, Sue and her friends took many beach trips together, finding joy in the search for beautiful seashells and in each other’s silliness. One notable trip found her in Ireland, where her group attempted to maintain teacherly decorum as they toured medieval castles.
She was a devoted, active member of Fieldale United Methodist Church, where she sang soprano in the choir. While Sue’s children were in middle and high school, they also joined the choir, which was led by a young conductor who doubled as her children’s high school band teacher. This arrangement turned choir practice into a riotous affair in which the conductor attempted to gain control of the giggling, gossiping soprano section as the tenor section shook their heads as one, maintaining an air of innocence while egging the sopranos on behind the conductor’s back. These times were some of the most fun that mother and children had together.
Through the church, Sue was a leader and member of various ministries. Particularly dear to her heart were the missions undertaken by Friends of Barnabas in Honduras, where she traveled several times — and once even rode a mule across a river in a rainforest to bring medical supplies to a remote village, which, if you had ever met Sue, you’d know was an unlikely activity. The mission of the faith-based organization is to “improve the lives of impoverished children in Honduras by providing high quality sustainable medical care and enabling communities to become self-sufficient through community health training and education.” Sue was proud to help empower the lives of Honduran residents, and in true Sue fashion, she made lifelong friendships with several Honduran residents of various ages.
Sue was a faithful volunteer with the Henry Fork Service Center in neighboring Franklin County, an organization whose goal is “to share God’s love with the Henry Fork community’s children, youth, and adults by nurturing and transforming the mind, body, and spirit.” From her base at Fieldale United Methodist Church, she helped gather school supplies and clothes to send to the center, picking up the pace at the beginning of each school year and at Christmas, her favorite holiday. She also spent many hours volunteering in the call center of the Grace Network, a faith-based, first-stop center for resources for families in crisis in Martinsville and Henry County.
Later in life, her son, Gavin Hager of Moneta, felt a keen obligation to care for his mother as her health deteriorated. When she sold her Collinsville home to move to Smith Mountain Lake to be closer to her children and grandchildren, Gavin integrated her into her new community by acting as her personal chauffeur and signing her up as a member of his congregation, Bethlehem United Methodist Church, where she quickly endeared herself to fellow church members. Gavin spent many weekends driving Sue on sight-seeing tours along the Blue Ridge Parkway, to his son’s soccer and baseball games, and to his daughter’s dance recitals.
Sue and her daughter, Gretchen, were fortunate to make some noteworthy travels. In 1999, Sue met Gretchen for a week in Paris, France, at the end of Gretchen’s college summer abroad. The two took in the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, and Versaille, where they discovered a mutual love of Andrea Bocelli’s classical opera in a cafe. In 2003, Sue became the leader of the Bonner Scholar scholarship program at Ferrum College, and she organized a mission trip to the Navajo Nation, where the scholars could lend a hand at an impoverished school in Tuba City, Arizona. She invited Gretchen along as a chaperone, and once the mission was complete, the group toured Four Corners, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend.
Sue spent every Christmas at Gretchen’s small farm in Bedford County, and she handled Gretchen’s assortment of animals with as much grace as she could muster. She was delighted when human children joined the household, as she was much more fond of that sort than the furry kind. She traveled with both Gretchen’s and Gavin’s families to Denver, Colorado; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Bryson City, North Carolina, for the Polar Express train ride, the Shatley Springs Inn in North Carolina, and many more adventures.
The births of her grandchildren were the four most momentous occasions of her life, and a prouder grandmother was never seen. She showered each child with gifts and love, and our biggest sorrow is that she wasn’t able to spend more quality time with them before her health became too much of a hindrance.
Sue’s family wishes to thank the many nurses and caregivers at Runk & Pratt at Smith Mountain Lake for their dedication, compassion and care for Sue during her final years. We are also extremely grateful to the team at Medi Hospice, who advocated for Sue’s comfort with grace and provided an empathetic listening ear for her family.
A small, private service will be conducted on Saturday, June 11, with a Celebration of Life to follow later this summer in Fieldale.
Donations may be made in her name to the following causes that were dear to her heart:
Fieldale United Methodist Church (276-673-6355)
Friends of Barnabas (www.fobf.org)
Henry Fork Service Center (https://henryforkcenter.org/)
Grace Network https://gracenetworkmhc.org/
Tharp Funeral Home, Smith Mountain Lake, is assisting the family.
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