Salisbury arts advocate Sue Hess dies at age 87

Sue Hess, a longtime Salisbury resident and fervent supporter of the Wicomico arts community, died Wednesday in Baltimore.

Sue Hess applauds at a Salisbury-Wicomico Arts event at Salisbury University in 2018.

Her husband’s family founded Hess Apparel in Downtown Salisbury. The company expanded with stores up and down the Delmarva Peninsula and in suburban Baltimore.

For many years, Sue Hess was one of the community’s top organizers of nonprofit fundraisers, community theater, public input campaigns, and arts and cultural events.

Hess, 87, died at her Roland Park residence. Born in Baltimore, she received a bachelor’s degree in English and a minored in Drama from Goucher college in 1953. In her last year in college, she was elected president of her senior class.

Throughout her life, she was passionate about acting, directing, and performing in musicals, starring in Salisbury Community Players’ classics such as “Hello, Dolly,” “The Sound of Music,” “Mame” and “Guys and Dolls.”

In 1955, She moved to Salisbury and married John Hess, President and CEO of Hess Apparel, who would remain her partner for 40 years until his death in 1994.

She was an active partner in his work on international buying trips and became the voice of the company through her voice overs on radio advertising spots.

Sue Hess.

A devoted patron of the arts, she has been a leader and staunch defender of the Arts in Maryland for more than 40 years. She founded Maryland Citizens for the Arts in 1977 and is the longest serving member on the Board of Trustees.

Working on her own for the first three years at her kitchen table in Ocean City’s Little Salisbury neighborhood, she began forming a network of grassroots art supporters across the state.

Over the years, she was instrumental in driving the tremendous change and growth for the arts in the state of Maryland. Her passion for the arts and her credibility with the state’s elected leadership has yielded countless benefits for artists and audiences.

In his 2021 budget, Gov. Larry Hogan has requested $26 million to fund the Maryland State Arts Council, one of the largest in the nation, much to the credit of Maryland Citizens for the Arts and Hess’ lobbying efforts.

Beginning in 2009, MCA began giving out the “Sue Hess Maryland Arts Advocate of the Year Award,” which recognizes an individual whose advocacy efforts have significantly increased support for and public recognition of the Arts in Maryland. When Sue retired as president of MCA in June 1998, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Governor’s Arts Awards.

She loved collecting art, singing and performing, and was always the life of the party.

She is survived by her brother, Joel Levin; her three children, John Hess, Pam Hess Gibson and Rick Hess; eight grandchildren, Julie Hess, Michael Hess, Rachel Gibson, Jessica Gibson, Avery Gibson, Rebecca Hess, Anna Hess and Naomi Hess.

Arrangements are in the care of Sol Levinson & Brothers in Pikesville, Md.

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