A funeral Mass for retired Tennessee appeals court judge Charles D. Susano Jr. was celebrated on May 17 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral, served as the Mass celebrant. He was assisted by Deacon Walt Otey.
Judge Susano passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on May 7. He was 86.
Judge Susano was born in 1936 in Knoxville to Charles D. Susano Sr. and his wife, Eloise (Dondero). Both preceded him in death as did his brother, Michael.
Judge Susano is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 57 years, Carolyn, son, Stephen of Nashville and his wife, Ana, daughter, Maria Susano of Arlington, Va., son, Charles III of Knoxville and his wife, Robin, and Preston Warren, who he loved like a son, of Dallas and his wife, Lynn.
Judge Susano also is survived by his brother, Tommy, brother-in-law, David King and his wife, Jennifer, and six grandchildren, Sophie, Jacob, Madison, Sydney, Hanna, and Hudson.
Guided by his strong Catholic faith, Judge Susano’s remarkable life and career were even more extraordinary because for the last 30 years he was confined to a wheelchair after a sleepwalking accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.
He never considered himself handicapped, saying, “I’m only handicapped if I let myself be. At worst, I have been challenged, forcing me to reinvent new ways to negotiate the new times.”
Judge Susano, a prayerful and faithful man, always relied upon God to steer him in the correct direction. His early values were formed and honed by his Catholic upbringing, first at home, then at Knoxville Catholic High School, where he was captain of the basketball team that won the sixth district championship in 1954.
One of his greatest joys was his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated magna cum laude from the College of Commerce with a major in accounting in 1958. He could always be found, and often heard, in front of the TV on fall football Saturdays cheering for the Irish.
Judge Susano was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958 and was honorably discharged in 1960, when he returned to Knoxville.
He enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he was a member of the Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif in 1963. He then served in the inaugural group of law clerks to the Tennessee Supreme Court, clerking for Chief Justice Hamilton S. Burnett.
Judge Susano began his successful legal career in private practice in Knoxville, first at Bernstein, Susano & Stair, and later at Susano, Sheppeard, Giordano & Swanson.
He served on the advisory committee to the Tennessee Supreme Court on Civil Rules and served his community on numerous nonprofit boards and in many capacities at his beloved Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
His legal career took a momentous turn in March 1994, when then-Gov. Ned Ray McWherter appointed him to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section. He subsequently was elected to the Court of Appeals on statewide ballots in 1994 and then again in 1998, 2006, and 2014.
He served as chief judge of the Court of Appeals from 2013 to 2015, retiring in April 2020 as Tennessee’s longest serving appellate judge with a prolific body of work that included over 1,000 opinions.
Judge Susano was the recipient of the Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award in 2017, received the Knoxville Bar Association’s Courage in the Face of Adversity Award in 2004, and the American Board of Trial Advocates, Tennessee Chapter Appellate Judge of the Year in 2003.
The longtime jurist embraced technology to assist his mobility in everyday life, which allowed him to meet the statewide responsibilities of his office. He continued to drive daily and was frequently seen zipping around downtown Knoxville in his motorized wheelchair from the courthouse to Gay Street for a constant stream of lunches and meetings.
Donations in Judge Susano’s memory may be made to The Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment at the University of Tennessee College of Law, Attention: Ellen Cole, Director of Advancement at UT College of Law, 1505 Cumberland Ave., Suite 248, Knoxville, TN 37996. Donations also may be made to the disABILITY Resource Center, Attention: Brook Rogers, 9111 Cross Park Drive, Suite E 135, Knoxville, TN 37923.