Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story.
Susan Wilburn never went anywhere without her lipstick.
“She was the most fashionable person I’ve ever known,” said her granddaughter Jennifer Corley, who lives in Norman. “It was important that she always looked her best.”
Even after a fall at her apartment landed her in the back of an ambulance eight years or nine before her death, Wilburn asked for her “lip rouge.”
She continued to dress impeccably after entering an assisted living center in Edmond in 2017.
Wilburn died Jan. 22, 2021 from complications of COVID-19 just five days short of her 89th birthday.
Corley hadn’t been able to visit her grandmother in the assisted living center for almost a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It bothers her that she didn’t get to hold her grandmother’s hand while she died. The two said goodbye over a Zoom call while Wilburn was in the hospital a few days before she passed away.
“She couldn’t really talk, but she could understand,” Corley said. “It’s not the same, but at least we did get to say goodbye.”
Corley has fond memories of visiting her grandparents’ home in Dallas as a child. Wilburn would feed her granola bars and Crystal Light after swimming.
Wilburn wasn’t a conventional grandmother, Corley recalls. She couldn’t cook, but had good taste and a great sense of humor.
When Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were the must-have Christmas gift of 1983, Corley suspects her grandmother bribed a store clerk so she could have one.
Wilburn was a consummate entertainer for friends and family. Her home was always immaculate.
“The president could drop in at any time and she would not be embarrassed,” Corely said. “She was ready.”
Family members signed consent forms for Wilburn to be immunized against COVID-19, but the assisted living center had not yet received its allotment of the vaccine when she fell ill on New Year’s Eve.
“Everyone talks about how not very many people die (of COVID-19 )— or just the elderly,” Corely said. “But the elderly is someone’s grandmother. That was my grandmother.”
Wilburn was born in 1932 in Columbus, Ohio. Her family later moved to California where she attended Van Nuys High School.
In 1950, she met Donald Wilburn, a Marine who later entered the computing field. The couple married in 1951 and raised two daughters. Wilburn worked as a secretary at various companies, including Capitol Records.
Wilburn is survived by her daughters Donna Hill of Grove and Laureen Byrd of Edmond; four grandchildren including Corley; Steve Perkins of Houston; Gary Hill of Yukon and Christi Hinkle of Edmond and nine great-grandchildren.