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Remembering Sue

Inside A Family's Commitment

Sue Nguyen, MA’73
The Nguyen family worked closely with BC staff to establish two endowed awards in memory of Sue Nguyen, MA’73, seen here in a colorized photo taken when she was a student.

Sue Nguyen, MA’73, loved to travel. One of the original “jetsetters,” she worked and studied around the world, visiting far-flung locales such as Morocco and Belize long before they became tourist hot spots.

Her other enduring passion was for education, leading her to become a fierce advocate for children as a public school counselor.

So when it came time for her family to commemorate her life, they turned to a place none of them had ever been to, but that embodied Nguyen’s values—Boston College.

“The decision was simple,” recalls Nguyen’s niece, Glenda Lee, who helped her family establish an endowed academic award for BC graduate students and then a second endowed fund for postgraduate travel.

“We knew how important Aunt Sue’s education had been to her, and we wanted to help other students follow in her footsteps—wherever that may take them.”


Born in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nguyen came to the U.S. with her family when she was 24 years old. She attended college on a full scholarship and went on to study French literature in Paris, teach in Vietnam, work as a radio broadcaster in Australia, attend interpretation school in Switzerland, and finally, earn a master’s degree in French literature at BC.

“Aunt Sue said she wanted to explore the world on a more intellectual, academic level, and that’s why she chose Boston College,” says Lee. “She described her time there as one of the happiest of her life.”

Nguyen eventually settled in Houston, where she served as a middle-school guidance counselor for more than 20 years. Other than traveling, she lived frugally and managed to save a substantial nest egg to enjoy in her retirement. But just a year after she retired, she was diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live.

Ever practical, Nguyen put her savings into a trust and asked her older sister, Bich Thi Nguyen, to oversee its distribution to family members and charitable causes, leaving the specifics up to her sister.

“Aunt Bich felt a tremendous responsibility to do it right, so after Sue passed away in 2011, Bich called the whole family together so we could make the decisions as a team,” recalls Lee.


Through conversations with BC’s University Advancement staff, the family learned more about the romance languages and literature department, where Nguyen had studied. Eager to help defray student costs, they made a gift from her estate to establish the Sue L. Nguyen ’73 Prize for Academic Excellence in Graduate Studies. They were pleasantly surprised when the award’s first recipient sent them all personal notes of gratitude.

“He was so enthusiastic and respectful of Aunt Sue, talking about how her career was an inspiration to him, as a fellow immigrant,” says Lee. “We were all deeply moved, and we decided to see what more we could do.”

“This level of philanthropy is something my family had never experienced before, so it’s been a learning process for us.”
—Glenda Lee, niece of Sue Nguyen, MA’73

Their second estate gift established the Sue L. Nguyen ’73 Travel Research Prize, and when the first awards were distributed this year, Lee; her mother, Nancy Lee; and her Aunt Bich flew to Boston to attend the ceremony.

“It was great to meet the students and hear about their lives and their ambitions,” says Lee. “We saw how close-knit the BC community is, how invested the faculty are in their students, and we knew we’d made the right choice.”

Buoyed by their experiences at BC, Lee and her family have gone on to make gifts to other organizations from Nguyen’s trust, and they are beginning to discuss charitable giving as part of their own estate plans.

“This level of philanthropy is something my family had never experienced before, so it’s been a learning process for us,” says Lee.

“It’s also been a healing process, especially for my mother and Aunt Bich. They felt Aunt Sue was gone too fast, too soon, and it means the world to them to know that she won’t be forgotten. Her legacy will live on.”

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