Mary Suzanne Beck Keech, a corporate managing director of Studley Inc., a Washington commercial real estate firm, who was also an active alumna of Garrison Forest School, died of cancer Monday at Georgetown University Hospital.
The former Catonsville resident had celebrated her 46th birthday last month.
The daughter of Rea Keech, a former Buick automobile dealer, and Mary Keech, a Talbots Cross Keys sales associate, Mary Suzanne Beck Keech was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.
When she was 7, Ms. Keech, who did not use her first name, was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare childhood kidney cancer, which she overcame.
"It took her two years, but she made a miracle recovery," said her sister, Leslie A. Keech, who lives in Ellicott City and is general sales manager for Win Kelly Chevrolet.
After graduating from Garrison Forest School in 1983, she earned a bachelor's degree in 1987 from Barnard College, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Ms. Keech began her business career at MetLife in New York City, where she worked as project and leasing director while earning her master's degree in business from Columbia University.
During her tenure at MetLife, she was responsible for the entire redevelopment process — from devising the strategic plan to negotiating leases — of the $430 million, 2.2 million-square-foot redevelopment of Eleven Madison, a New York retail center.
Since 1999, Ms. Keech, who lived in Bethesda, had worked in the Washington office of Studley. At the time of her death, she was corporate managing director.
"We saw her from the very beginning as a rising star in our company, and she won numerous awards and recognition," said Lois A. Zambo, vice chairman of the company and manager of the Washington branch office.
"While she was very competitive, no one in the industry would ever, ever say a negative word about Suzanne. She had grace and dignity, and was successful by being nice. She was genuine and caring," she said.
Ms. Zambo said that Ms. Keech continued to work despite her illness.
"Her last day in the office was sometime in October, but she was still calling and doing deals the day before she died. She'd tell me to call at a certain time so we could talk before they gave her a morphine injection," she said.
Most of the staff, according to Ms. Zambo, had no idea Ms. Keech was ill.
"They never had a clue because she was always joking and laughing. She never complained," she said.
Ms. Keech was actively involved with Higher Achievement, a Washington-based organization that mentors underprivileged middle-school students and helps get them into and through "top-notch" schools, and she "would move heaven and earth to make it happen," her sister said.
The organization, which has branches in Baltimore, Alexandria, Va., and Richmond, Va., operates after-school academies, summer academies and high school placement services.
"She devoted herself to her charities. It's always easy to just write a check. What Suzanne did was give as much time as she could — which was hours and hours," said Ms. Zambo.
"She had volunteered for a long time and served on our board from 2004 until 2011, and had been vice chair from 2007 to 2010," said Richard A. Tagle, CEO of Higher Achievement.
"Suzanne actually helped a student get into Garrison Forest, her alma mater, and then made it possible for her to go there by establishing a scholarship fund for the student," said Mr. Tagle. "She was devoted to making opportunities for the disadvantaged and giving them every possible tool and resource so they could be successful."
Her largesse routinely amounted to $3,000 to $5,000 a year, Mr. Tagle said, and when she found a building for the organization, she waived her commission and donated it to Higher Achievement.
"Over the last eight years, she gave more than $40,000," Mr. Tagle said. "The children loved her, and she was always asking, 'What do you need?' She was never hesitant to call up people and explain the program."
Ms. Keech remained involved at Garrison Forest, where she served as chair of the annual fund for many years.
"She was just a terrific girl and a devoted alumna," said Agnes Underwood, who was head of school at Garrison from 1978 to 1989.
"She was a doer and a hard worker who always took the most challenging courses. She was a can-do positive kid and was a person who got things done. Also, everyone liked her, and the girls in her class are devoted to her," said Ms. Underwood.
"We've been best friends at Garrison Forest since the seventh grade," said Gwynn L. MacDonald, a former Mount Washington resident who is an artistic director of the Juggernaut Theatre Company in New York City and works in cable TV.
"She was always active at Garrison and always very enthusiastic," said Ms. MacDonald.
Ms. Keech's hobbies were "shopping and visiting Dewey Beach, Del.," her sister said.
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, 30 Melvin Ave., Catonsville.
In addition to her sister, Ms. Keech is survived by her father, who lives in Westminster, and her mother, of Catonsville; and a brother, J.R. Keech of Florida.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun