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Shelter Island Reporter obituaries: Kamil, O’Brien, Van der Eems

Esteemed book editor and Islander Susan Kamil passed away on Sunday, Sept. 8 from complications relating to lung cancer. She was 69.

Susan Kamil

Renowned as a “brilliant editor” and “genius” by her friends and colleagues in publishing, Susan most recently served as the executive vice president and publisher of Random House.

Her wisdom guided the works of famed authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Salman Rushdie, Ruth Reichl and Elizabeth Strout.

“Susan not only edited books, she edited lives,” said Bob Kohn, Ms. Kamil’s husband, with whom she shared a house on Ram Island Drive.

Susan’s passing has been widely mourned in the press by authors and friends. Salman Rushdie, author of the Booker Prize-nominated novel “Quichotte,” praised Susan’s “clarity and sharpness” and credited her insights with being “invaluable” to his writing process.

“Working with (Susan) has been the best experience of my writing life. She was also one of the loveliest human beings I have known … It’s a devastating loss for so many of us,” Mr. Rushdie said.

In another heartfelt tribute, writer and former Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl lauded Ms. Kamil’s near-telepathic intuition and humility, adding, “Despite her powerful job and enormous reputation, Susan never lorded it over you. While many editors secretly yearn to write, Susan had no desire to see herself in print … She was a reader, in the fiercest sense.”

Born on Sept. 16, 1949, Susan grew up in Manhattan, studied English and American literature at Vassar College and received a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University. She began her book publishing career in the 1970s at Macmillan in the children’s book division, writing promotional book jacket copy. She went on to work in the subsidiary rights departments of publishing firms such as Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Simon & Schuster, earning a reputation as an all-star rights negotiator.

Susan was then recruited to join Random House in 1991 by former publisher Joni Evans, who made her the executive editor of the Turtle Bay imprint. When Turtle Bay shuttered, Susan was invited to Shelter Island by friends and fellow publishers Carole and Richard Baron, who then had a house in the Heights. Over lunch at The Shelter Island Yacht Club, the three friends discussed Susan’s next move.

It was ultimately decided she would revive the iconic Dial Press, a then-shuttered imprint that had published writers such as Norman Mailer and James Baldwin in the 1960s and 1970s. Under Susan’s leadership, the imprint became a huge success.

“She started (Dial Press) from scratch and built a major empire for the Random House group,” said Ms. Baron.

Susan was appointed editor-in-chief of the Random House Publishing Group’s esteemed Random House imprint in 2008. Two years later, she was promoted to executive vice president and publisher.

“She was an extremely special person. It was always about you in a conversation, she was a nurturer … and a good friend” said Ms. Baron, who explained that Susan supported her while her husband, Richard, recovered from surgery.

Susan and her husband, Mr. Kohn, a copyright attorney and author, rented a house on West Neck Creek for three years before purchasing a home on Tuthill Drive. This past summer marked the first time they got to enjoy the home following some renovations.

“Every time we sat down in that house and looked out at Shanty Bay in Coecles Harbor, Susan would say,’This is heaven,’” Mr. Kohn said.

Susan is buried in Shelter Island Cemetery. She is survived by her husband, two stepchildren and two brothers.

Janet (Jane) O’Brien
Janet (Jane) O’Brien was born on May 14, 1937 in Glen Cove and died on Sept. 14, 2019 in Venice, Fla. She was the daughter of William J. Wanser and Ruth Anna Wanser. Jane had three siblings; William E. Wanser, Ruth Ann Wanser and Townsend Ambrose Wanser who are now deceased.

Janet (Jane) O’Brien

She was married to Joseph R. O’Brien. Their 60th wedding anniversary would have been on July 30, 2020. Jane is also survived by her loving daughter, Susan D. O’Brien, who also resides in Venice.

Jane grew up in Oyster Bay where so many Wanser families resided. She graduated from St. Dominic’s High School, and then continued her education at Mrs. Skinner’s school for legal secretaries. She loved to sing in the church choir and help the nuns at school. After she married Joe, they moved to Port Washington and during their 30 years there she taught quilting and was an active member of the Plandome Ladies Club. She later became a customer representative for Publishers Clearing House.

When they retired in 1996, they moved to Shelter Island. There Jane became a volunteer at Eastern Long Island Hospital, where she served for 12 years in community development and was an officer on the auxiliary board. She loved working at the hospital’s annual golf outing and enjoyed seeing the players each year. Jane joined the Lions Club on Shelter Island and later the Venice Lions after they moved there in 2011. She and Joe always loved the Island and in the years before their retirement they stayed there as guests of Janet Carlson and Connie Williams.

A memorial mass will be said at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on September 24 at 10 a.m. and her ashes will be buried in her family plot in Oyster Bay. If you wish to make a donation in her name, please send it to Our Lady of Lourdes Church or the Venice Lions Club.

Jeffrey P. Van der Eems
Jeffrey P. Van der Eems of Shelter Island died on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. He was 56 years old.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, Sept. 14 at The Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, officiated by the Reverend Robert Griffin.

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