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Alumni Profile: John and Susan Bies

Posted: October 5, 2011

John Bies, ’66, ’67, when asked the secret to the success of his 40-year marriage to Susan Bies, ’67, recounted an epiphany he had during a study of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in a Buffalo State literature class.

“In ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale,’ a woman asks her new husband to choose between her being ugly and faithful or beautiful and unfaithful,” John said. “He decides to give the choice to her.” Trust and support of one’s partner, implies Chaucer, is the key to marital happiness. “She becomes fair and faithful, and lives with him happily until the end of their days.”

Susan laughed. “I told John right up front that I wanted a career,” she said. As a two-career couple in the early 1970s, they were ahead of their time.

The daughter of an industrial salesman and a public school secretary, Susan had entered Buffalo State intent on becoming a social studies teacher. Three years later she graduated with a degree in education, a sense of confidence, and a newfound passion for economics. Those attributes gained her entrance into the male-dominated banking industry, where she worked her way up to executive vice president at First Tennessee National Corporation.

In 2001, Susan was invited to serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, which she did with distinction until 2007. The board is charged with overseeing the nation’s 12 regional reserve banks and setting national monetary policy.

“Buffalo State helped me realize there was a larger world of opportunities available to me than I had originally thought,” Susan said during an April visit to campus, when she headlined Buffalo State’s annual Economics and Finance Forum. “Learning to interact with others in my education classes, learning to think on my feet while on the debate team, having my economics professor encourage me to go to graduate school —those things paid huge dividends over the years.”

Growing up, John had watched his father labor in the furnaces of General Abrasives in Niagara Falls, New York. Realizing that education was the key to a different life, John attended Buffalo State to become an industrial arts teacher.

“As with Susan, Buffalo State opened my eyes and got me to look at the bigger picture,” John recalled. “One of my professors said to me, ‘Do you realize you’ll be teaching in the next century?’ That taught me to think creatively.”

Education classes also taught him to analyze a situation, develop a strategy, and adapt to change—skills he used as an educator on many different playing fields.

“My two sons starting playing soccer when they were little, and I started coaching,” John said. “In 1982, I was offered the opportunity to coach professionally and train in Argentina, which I did for 20 years.”

That experience made John a passionate advocate for traveling abroad. He established an international travel program for students at University of Missouri-Columbia, where he earned a Ph.D. in industrial education.

Susan loves to pass the torch to young people as well, as she did in a lecture hall of economics students and faculty during their recent visit.

“I tried to offer them a worldview,” Susan said, “as my professors did.”

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