Suzanne and Walter Scott were talking with Dr. Lee Simmons about the wide variety of fish that could be displayed by adding an aquarium to Omaha's zoo.
Then Sue made a suggestion: “Couldn't we have penguins also?”
“I thought a minute, and the answer was simple,” Simmons said Monday. “Both Walter and I said, 'Why not? All it takes is money.' So that's how we ended up with what is unquestionably the best penguin exhibit in North America and perhaps even the world.”
The Henry Doorly Zoo's penguin exhibit, dedicated to the Scotts' grandchildren when the Suzanne and Walter Scott Kingdoms of the Seas Aquarium opened in 1995, is an example of the Omaha legacy of Sue Scott, who died Monday at age 83. The cause of death was not immediately available.
The family is planning a private service and suggested memorials to the Omaha Zoo Foundation, said Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann Dworak-Cutler funeral home.
As a volunteer, philanthropist and hostess for fundraising events, Suzanne Marshall Scott set a standard for active, wise community involvement that made Omaha a better place, said civic leaders, including Simmons, retired director of the zoo and chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation.
“Sue was an intelligent and energetic philanthropist, willing to provide an all-out effort for any project beneficial to Omaha or Nebraska,” said Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha. “In addition, she was a great hostess and a good friend, in many ways helping both me and Berkshire during our annual meeting festivities.”
Partly because of Sue Scott's example, “there's a lot of very energetic and enthusiastic and committed young people in the next generation coming up,” said Ken Stinson, a chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc. “Others will use her engagement in the community and passion to inspire their own involvement.
“She had a lot of vision about what would be best for the community and how to get there. It was not just responding to someone asking for some money, but rather getting involved and understanding what the organization was doing and helping it to do it better, with some creativity and new approaches.”
As the wife of Walter Scott Jr., another chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., she helped guide the charitable contributions of the couple's considerable wealth, a role she assumed after years as a self-described “professional volunteer.”
Besides the zoo aquarium, her name appears with her husband's on other civic venues, including the Walter & Suzanne Scott Pavilion at Joslyn Art Museum and the Walter and Suzanne Scott Recital Hall at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
A native of Lincoln, Scott was a University of Nebraska graduate who taught elementary school for nine years in Kansas, California and Lincoln. After having children, she re-entered the workforce in 1967, holding jobs as owner-manager of a gift shop in Bel-Air Plaza, as a legal assistant and as an executive for a restaurant chain and for a real estate firm.
She volunteered at the zoo, and Simmons hired her in 1984 as the founding executive director of a new zoo foundation because of her extensive community contacts. The zoo's membership campaign doubled in size during her tenure.
She and Walter Scott would have celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary this November.
They met while she was working for the foundation and he headed the zoo's board of directors.
Sue Scott had been a good friend of Walter Scott's first wife, Carolyn, who died in 1983, but didn't know Walter.
After they met, they took drives together to Nebraska football games and to visit his father at a Blair nursing home.
They married in 1987 at their place of worship, Countryside Community Church.
The couple traveled extensively, once taking a two-week African sightseeing tour with 17 friends that included riding on a chartered train with refurbished passenger cars. They also enjoyed cruises on their yacht, and she learned to deep-sea fish with her husband and friends.
The Scotts once flew two baby gorillas to the Omaha zoo from Cincinnati in their private plane.
Sue Scott traveled to Africa and China with zoo officials working on movies for the zoo's Lozier IMAX Theater.
“We think of the zoo as one of her main loves because she spent so much time and effort here,” Simmons said, “but you can see Sue's fingerprints on almost every different nonprofit organization in town. She was a worker bee, a mover and shaker, and made things happen, very kind-hearted and generous.
“Happily, she liked penguins.”
Sue Scott was past president of the Omaha Dental Auxiliary, the Immanuel Medical Center Auxiliary, Pi Beta Phi Alumnae and the NU Medical Center Faculty Women's Association
She and her husband also have supported Clarkson Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Ak-Sar-Ben 4-H Stock Show, Omaha Symphony, Children's Hospital & Medical Center, Children's Hospital Foundation, Children's Corner, Bellevue University, Goodwill Industries, Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Horatio Alger Association, TeamMates Mentoring Program, Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, Ballet Omaha, Nebraska Humane Society and the University of Nebraska.
The couple served as chairmen for the 1996 United Way of the Midlands campaign.
Suzanne Scott has two sons, Dr. William Singer, an Omaha orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Robert Singer of Nashville, Tenn., from a previous marriage; four stepchildren, Karen Dixon of Leawood, Kan., and David Scott, Amy Willer and Sandy Parker, all of Omaha; and 17 grandchildren.
Correction: Suzanne Scott's gift shop was in Bel-Air Plaza, and her son, Dr. Robert Singer, is in Nashville, Tenn. The locations were incorrect in a previous version of this story.