Suki Kwon McDermott passed away on Aug. 30, 2022, at her home in Tavernier, Florida, having lived an extraordinary life with extraordinary strength, passion, modesty and courage. In this world, there are people who watch what happens and people who make things happen. Suki was the latter.
Born in South Korea in 1950, Suki immigrated to the United States in 1970, where she met her husband Tom at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. While in New Jersey, Suki became a licensed casino dealer, working both in New Jersey and aboard cruise ships based in Fort Lauderdale. Suki and Tom later moved to Miami Shores, Florida and on July 5, 1976, Suki became a naturalized citizen in one of the largest naturalization ceremonies in history. This was one of the happiest days of her life and she never missed voting in an election from that day on. In 1990, she had another proud moment when she met then-president Richard Nixon at the Key Biscayne home of Bebe Rebozo. Suki not only revered the American Dream – she lived the American Dream, working hard to achieve a life that reflected her new country’s ethos of hard work, self-sufficiency and individual liberty.
In 1993, Suki and Tom moved to Tavernier, Florida and she began a new chapter in her life after meeting veterinarian Elton Gissendanner and learning of the plight of the area’s countless homeless cats. Having endured a harsh childhood, Suki was determined not to let any animal ever suffer the pain, hunger or loneliness she had known. Perhaps her greatest legacy was the establishment of feeding stations throughout the northern Florida Keys. Armed with a pick-up truck loaded with live traps and cat food, for 29 years Suki covered the Tavernier area in the silent, small hours of the night, caring for scores of animals and ensuring that they were sterilized and received food and medical care. She knew every cat that would venture from the dark at the sight of her truck's headlights and loved them as if they were her own-and in fact, they probably were. Even in the last weeks of her life, Suki arranged for the continuation of the stations so that her work would continue when she knew she could not.
Her compassion was not limited to cats - Suki also volunteered at the Tavernier Bird Center, worked with conservation officers to protect crocodiles and local wildlife rehabbers to help raccoons. Because of her tremendous contributions to the animals of the Florida Keys. Monroe County bestowed Suki with the title of Honorary Conch, a much sought-after accolade in the Florida Keys, and in 2001 she was also recognized by the Tavernier community for her work in caring for the feral cats in Founder’s Park.
Suki’s tremendous compassion for the suffering was matched by her tremendous capacity for joy. From line-dancing to riding the Goodyear Blimp to floating on her little houseboat (and later her new pontoon boat) in the waters off Tavernier, Suki lived life to the fullest. When she received a diagnosis of cancer in 1990, Suki never wasted a moment on self-pity but instead began life full-speed ahead, gamely undergoing countless rounds of chemotherapy while trapping, neutering and releasing as many cats as possible, searching for future cat caretakers and, even in her last few weeks of life, planning for a trip to Las Vegas with friends. Even though she may have known that trip might never happen, Suki was determined to spare her friends and family from any private pain or fear she might have felt, always ending conversations with an upbeat “You got it”!
Suki is survived by her husband Tom, sisters Jane Loper and Christine Kaminski of Naples, Florida and Suk Ja Kwon of Anchorage, and multiple nieces and nephews in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and New Jersey. And, of course, the legions of cats that will be waiting for her in the shadows of the night.
A Bayside celebration of Suki's life will be held at the Allen-Beyer Funeral home October 15th from 10:00a-1:00p
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to WHISKERS & PAWS FOREVER OF MONROE COUNTY, INC., 182 Bayview Drive, Islamorada FL 33036 and feed a stray cat, love this country, and take joy from every beautiful sunset in the Keys. Change the world around you rather than let it change you. That’s what Suki would have wanted. That was how she lived.