When Susan Bayh lay in her hospice bed, she found it difficult to open her eyes. One of her twin sons, Beau, was sitting beside her and holding her hands, though, when she looked to him, her beautiful blue eyes locking into his.
And though she couldn’t speak, her son said, Susan Bayh still mouthed the words: “I love you, Beau.”
Beau Bayh shared the story during a memorial for his mother on Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Church. As Hoosiers in the pews dabbed their eyes, Beau and his brother, Nicholas, spoke of their mother’s resilience following her diagnosis with incurable brain cancer, and her lifelong devotion to her family and friends.
“She truly was the best mom a son could ask for,” Beau Bayh said. “I miss her more than I can say.”
And, Nicholas Bayh said, she was dedicated above all else to her two boys.
Then he glanced at his father, former Sen. Evan Bayh. “Sorry, dad,” Nicholas said, to laughter among the 200 in attendance.
The former First Lady of Indiana died Feb. 5. She was 61.
A memorial in a special place
The Bayh family waited a few months to hold her memorial services because of COVID-19 precautions. Those in attendance were asked to continue wearing masks through the service and to refrain from singing hymns. The harmony from an eight-person choir standing far from the mourners still filled the church.
The passage of time helped alleviate the Bayhs’ sadness before the memorial. They were able to spend more time focusing on their loving memories.
From a ‘blind date’ to tender moments amid cancer: The love story of Susan and Evan Bayh
Though grief lingers, Evan Bayh said the family wanted his wife’s memorials to be a celebration of her life — a reflection of the woman as she lived. “She was such a happy, positive person,” Evan Bayh told IndyStar Friday.
Susan Bayh’s professional and personal accomplishments were lengthy. She practiced law, served on countless boards, mentored students and created a charity to help adult literacy, among many other things. But her husband of 35 years will also continue treasuring memories made just within the last three years.
Confronted with the pain and discomfort of cancer, which required surgery in 2018 to remove a glioblastoma tumor in her brain, Susan Bayh’s spirit of joy persevered. She would not complain of the pain or the circumstances; instead, she insisted she was lucky to be surrounded to the end by three men who loved her.
“In a world with too much cynicism and apathy,” Evan Bayh said at her memorial Saturday, “she was the antithesis to both.”
The location for Saturday’s service isa special place for the Bayh family. Trinity Episcopal is where they attended church while Evan served as Indiana’s governor. His two terms ran from 1989-1997.
The church is also where their children were baptized two months after being born. Hoosiers watched as the governor and the First Lady of Indiana raised the boys in the public eye; their birth was front-page news for the Indianapolis Star in November 1995 (the headline read: “Rock-A-Bayh Babies”).
Evan Bayh, who would also serve two terms as U.S. senator from 1999 to 2011, remembers the days when the family of four would sit in the back pew alongside other young families. Nicholas and Beau were just toddlers then, and occasionally Evan or Susan would need to step away from the services with the young twins for a few moments.
Among those in attendance Saturday were Gov. Eric Holcomb, former Sen. Joe Donnelly, former Rep. Lee Hamilton and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, as well as current and former first ladies of Indiana: Janet Holcomb, Karen Pence and Cheri Daniels. (Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was in West Lafayette for Homecoming.)
Political battles set aside
The Bayhs held a separate memorial Wednesday in Washington, D.C. at the National Cathedral, where Evan and Susan were married. It’s also where, in 1979, services were held for Evan’s mother, Marvella Bayh.
Those in attendance Wednesday included former Vice President Mike Pence and his brother, Rep. Greg Pence, as well as Sen. Dan Coats, who held the same senate seat before and after Evan Bayh, and Sen. Todd Young, who defeated Bayh for the senate seat in the 2016 election.
Past political battles were set aside to honor Susan Bayh.
“In times of adversity,” Evan Bayh told IndyStar, “Hoosiers stick together.”
Pres. Joe Biden, who is a longtime friend to the Bayh family, also spoke at Wednesday’s memorial and spent time with the family before the services. The president lost his son Beau to the same disease that took Susan.
In addition to Evan, Nicholas and Beau, Susan Bayh is survived by her father, Bob Breshears, and stepmother, Kathy Breshears; her brother, Bob Breshears Jr.; and her sisters, Linda Marcus and Ann Lesh.
‘Take care of our sons’
She leaves behind a legacy that will endure.
Following the memorial Saturday, Mayor Hogsett announced plans for an outdoor classroom at Holliday Park that will honor her memory. The classroom, which will contain seating for up to 50 people, will include an outdoor fireplace and gardens at the park’s nature center.
Much of the planning and fundraising, Evan Bayh said, were led by two of his wife’s closest friends: Barbara Glass and Amy Peterson. Both women participated in the memorial, too.
Evan Bayh said the classroom was a fitting tribute for his wife, who cared deeply about helping young people get an education.
A scholarship at Indiana University also is named after Evan and Susan Bayh.
Perhaps most of all, her legacy can be found in her two boys, who both wore formal military dress to the memorial Saturday.
Twenty-five years have passed since the two were baptized at Trinity.
“She was so determined that Beau and Nick fulfill their God-given potential and always do their best,” Evan Bayh said. “Now here they are, fine young men wearing their nation’s uniforms and speaking so movingly of their mother.”
Beau Bayh is an officer with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is planning to take a yearlong break from Harvard Law School to work on a special project regarding the military’s drone programs.
Nicholas Bayh is an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army Reserve who is earning a graduate degree at Harvard Business School.
Before Susan Bayh died, she was able to attend both of her sons’ graduations from military officer training.
Evan Bayh shared another story during Saturday’s memorial about the bond between his sons and their mother. As his wife lay in the hospital, Beau brought in a stuffed toy that always made him feel better as a child. And Nicholas stayed beside her, stroking her hair as she once stroked his.
“Her final request of me,” Evan Bayh told those gathered Saturday, trying his hardest to hold back tears, “was that I take care of our sons.”
When he finished speaking, he walked away from the church lectern, stood before his two sons in the first row, and hugged them both.
IndyStar reporters Tim Evans and Amelia Park-Harvey contributed to this story.
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