With the recent passing of Susan Taylor Wren, the longtime animal advocate and the public face of St. Helena’s We Care Animal Rescue, the organization is undergoing a transition. Wren, 72, died of complications from cancer on Sept. 27.
Sean McVity said he’d worked with Wren on and off in different capacities for almost 20 years. He first served on the board from 2004 to 2006. When Wren was on the group’s board of directors, McVity said, “She looked me up on a visit to New York and we fell in together. Eventually, she asked me to rejoin the board.”
He said he and Wren worked “very closely together for the past five years. We’ve worked to upgrade operations, stabilize finances and Susan ran the St. Helena operation, which included relations with the community and fundraising as well as running the shelter operations.” McVity said he ran finances and gave business advice and flew to St. Helena from his New York home to attend board meetings and events.
Wren became incapacitated the first week of September and at that point, she asked McVity, who’d been serving as treasurer, to take over as board president.
Beyond being treasurer, McVity said he was a sounding board for the woman he calls energetic and enthusiastic.
“Susan was like a Tasmanian devil,” McVity said. “She would start spinning around and picking up ideas like a cloud. My favorite memory of working with Susan on the board was the dozens of phone calls I would get from her at odd times. I loved getting these phone calls from Susan,” he added. She would call to discuss a problem or an issue and the conversation would turn to an initiative that Wren was excited about.
“She had so many ideas, had the energy to carry them out and she would get me involved in a dozen different things,” McVity said. “By the time those calls were over, I’d want to quit my job and work on every one of things she had dreamed up. Susan had a way of converting everything around her into positive energy.”
Shelter manager Cindy Hood said she had a special connection with Wren.
“Susan was the one who asked me to retire from my other job so I could come work here,” she said. Hood worked as a property and evidence manager for the Napa Police Department and said she’s enjoyed her new job.
“She taught me quite a bit about the dos and don’ts around here. How certain things should be. When we lost Susan, we lost a lot of knowledge, a lot of history. She’s missed but you can still feel her, because this was her baby. This was her second home,” Hood said.
Hood said before Wren got sick, she would be at the shelter nearly every day. “She was very patient with us. I miss having her here all the time. After she got sick, she would call me every so often from the hospital or home and I’d barely understand what she was saying,” Hood said. And, even though she was sick she would tell Hood that this needed doing or that needed to be done and Hood would tell her: “It’s OK, we’ve got it covered.”
Hood said that Wren will be missed, but “she’ll forever be here.”
Beyond taking the reins of president, McVity said he has recruited one of his partners, the chief operating officer of Garnet Capital, to take over as treasurer of the nonprofit. Beyond that, Bill Wren, Susan’s husband, “will adopt a more informal role on the board as an adviser,” and Hilary De Puy, a local real estate agent, will join the board. McVity said the transition will take about two months.
“Susan took a struggling institution with a longtime presence in town and turned it into a St. Helena institution with a public face,” McVity said. She brought We Care to life for St. Helena and the valley, he added. “I want to make sure I preserve her legacy by putting a very stable management team in place, so the place continues to run directly,” McVity said. “That’s my first responsibility to her.”
He added, “I hope to make We Care better known around the valley and outside the valley and make it a reflection that St. Helena can be proud of.
“I had a foot and a half on her in height, but I certainly have big shoes to fill.”