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Suzanne Hale wears a black t-shirt that reads “Gay Fucking Pride,” standing outside the Roxy.
Suzanne Hale, also known as the Lovely Suzanne.
Thom Hilton/Eater Portland

The Lovely Suzanne, Remembered in the Words of Those Who Knew Her

Here, some Portlanders closest to her share their memories of the woman they called the “mother of all misfits”

Over the last month, Portlanders have been grieving the loss of Suzanne Hale, the larger-than-life materfamilias of the longstanding 24-hour diner, the Roxy. Hale — the Lovely Suzanne — died in her sleep November 8, mere months after closing the Roxy in downtown Portland; the loss of both Hale and her haven has been felt by those who knew her not just as the boisterous, welcoming face of the Roxy, but as a chosen parent, a fervent ally, a friend, a guide. Outside her work at the Roxy, Hale served on the Imperial Sovereign Rose Court, an LGBTQ community organization, as Rose Empress, and co-organized the Portland Gay Pride Pageant, regularly paying for unhoused queer youth’s tickets to all-ages drag shows. Below, we’ve compiled the thoughts, memories, and perspectives of various Portland public figures who knew, worked with, and loved the Lovely Suzanne.

“Back in the ’80s, [Hale] worked at Quality Pie as a waitress, and I had a show at Embers on Sunday nights. Quality Pie was the end-up back in those days, on 23rd and Lovejoy. She was just a hoot — loud and weird and funny as hell.” —Maria Peters Lake, President of Peacock Productions and former Ms. Gay Oregon

“I used to always go to Quality Pie after doing the club scene; I befriended the older drag queens in the community, and we always met up at Quality Pie. There was this waitress who was so crazy — She was loud and like, sassy and snarky, and I was going, ‘How can she get away with this?’ I didn’t know that was her way of life.” —Poison Waters, celebrated Portland drag queen and former Rose Empress

When Quality Pie closed, she popped up at the Roxy, and we reconnected because of that. She used to say, ‘Hot dish comin’ through,’ talking about herself. That’s how she lived.” —Maria Peters Lake

I would go to the Roxy after the club, when we were in drag, and people thought we were the bee’s knees. When you’re in drag, you’re super vulnerable. In the late ’90s, way before RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Roxy was a place to sit and eat. We were in drag, drunk, and you had people there from Lake Oswego to Gresham. People would take pictures with us. Everybody was at the table.” —Poison Waters

“I first stepped foot in the Roxy in December 2011, for the opening night cast party of my first high school play. I sat under the photo of Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter, and it was autographed. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a joke. Were the autographs real, or what? But that was kind of the charm.” —Thom Hilton, Portland-based writer and filmmaker

“My god, there will never be another Roxy. It’s where every little underage person ever went; they snuck out of the house and went to the Roxy. To watch her progression from basically being a mother of street kids to the mother of drag queens — she was the mother of all misfits.” —Byron Beck, Portland-based writer

The Roxy was a wading pool of the coolest parts of underground gay culture. It was foundational when I first entered as a closeted gay boy kept from his culture, who loved the night but had no rhythm for all-ages dance clubs, or connections for concerts.” —Andrew Jankowski, Portland-based writer

I went to Lincoln and I was co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and we invited Suzanne in to tell the queer kids that if they ever needed somewhere to go, they could come to the Roxy. She came in in full drag, full regalia.” —Thom Hilton

I know that she fed a lot of the youth; they were never kicked out. A lot of those kids were on the street, so having a safe, warm place, that was important.” —Maria Peters Lake

“It was like her own ministry, run through a restaurant. Her belief was that our community is a good community, our city is a good city, and the people here are worth helping. Then COVID hit, and the city hit her with the ‘We’re going to close your restaurant and not let you reopen it here.’ The saddest part was hearing her say that she felt like part of her was dying.” —Scott Seibert, Rose Emperor 36

I tried to keep it together on my last visit to the Roxy, for Suzanne’s sake, but I broke down crying in my favorite corner booth. The Roxy had been there for me, and I failed her. Suzanne comforted me, reminding me that it wasn’t just her, the staff, or the menu that made the Roxy all that it was. We, her customers, were part of the legend, and she loved us.” —Andrew Jankowski

Every year, we have an all-ages show at [legendary drag theater] Darcelle’s; they suspend the liquor license for one day, and you can have every age in there to see a regular Darcelle show with some youth who perform. Every year, Suzanne would pay for 10 tickets, and she’d let the youth know, she’d offer them up. She said, ‘Tell them you’re with Suzanne.’” —Maria Peters Lake

She was our first heterosexual empress because she had been around the drag queens years before she was involved with the Rose Court. She was Empress 43 and I was 44, so she literally passed the crown on to me. It was such a nice transition for the organization and for me; she wanted me to succeed because she wanted the organization to succeed.’” —Poison Waters

I never thought of her as an ally, but she was. She was a straight woman involved with the queer community. But you never thought of her that way; she was a part of our community. She was one of us.” —Maria Peters Lake

“Every year, we would gather supplies and take them down to hospice outside Tijuana. We realized they didn’t actually have power in the way we have power, so she got them solar panels so they could light the hallways at night. She empowered people to believe in their power, that the people around them are worth saving and helping.” —Scott Seibert

I don’t know anyone else in this community that supported the youth as much as Suzanne did. In all my years of being in the community, there are the people who do it for show, or the people who do it to show how much they have. That was never Suzanne. She didn’t get the thanks she should have gotten for all that she did.” —Maria Peters Lake

“There’s no one else in this world I’ve seen who’s been as true to herself as her. The Lovely Suzanne was a punk-ass, totally gnarly, incredibly kind badass.” —Byron Beck

Some quotes have been edited or condensed, for clarity.

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