Even in the worst of times, Greens had solace to share

2011-01-30T00:00:00Z 2014-07-30T17:33:42Z Even in the worst of times, Greens had solace to shareStephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 30, 2011 12:00 am  • 

On the worst day of their lives, John and Roxanna Green found the strength to comfort their friends.

Their beloved Christina-Taylor was gone, shot to death outside a northwest-side supermarket.

Just a few hours after the Greens and their 11-year-old son, Dallas, heard the devastating news, John Green was on the phone to the Hilemans, saying his family was praying for them.

Susan "Suzi" Hileman had taken 9-year-old Christina-Taylor to the Safeway the morning of Jan. 8 to meet U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The third-grader had just been elected to her student council and was excited to see government in action.

Christina-Taylor was shot in the chest and killed in the shooting rampage that began just as the event was starting. Suzi, 58, was shot in the thigh, hip and chest.

Four days after their daughter's funeral, the Greens returned to University Medical Center - the place where their lives changed forever - to visit Suzi.

"It was incredibly difficult for me to return to the place where I first found out about the tragedy, then was told my daughter was shot and did not make it," Roxanna said. "Saying goodbye to my beautiful daughter was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life."

But still, there she was, comforting a friend.

"We were hugging and crying," Suzi said. Incredulous, she added, "They lost a daughter and they are not mad at me."

Suzi was released from UMC Jan. 18, but her recovery is far from complete - she's been ordered to stay off her feet for 10 weeks. Right now, if she moves at all, she needs a walker or a wheelchair.

More painful and enduring than her physical wounds, however, is the grief - the devastating loss of Christina-Taylor, and accepting the horrible truth that someone else's child died while in her care. And the bond of two families that had grown close in the last 31/2 years will never be the same.

"I'm just a gray-haired lady who took a friend's kid to the grocery store," Suzi said last week as she sat on her couch wrapped in a pink quilt friends made for her following the shooting. "I'm going to be sad about this for the rest of my life."

Friends aren't surprised by the Greens' ability to reach out to help others even in their darkest hour. Roxanna, a registered nurse, has a natural instinct to care for and comfort others before herself. After her daughter's funeral, "I knew I had to pull it together and be strong for my son and husband," she said. She also felt it was important to reach out to the Hilemans.

The afternoon of the shooting, she had called the Hilemans' daughter, letting her know that the Green family had the Hilemans in their prayers. She asked John to call Suzi's husband, Bill, that evening.

She also had one of her girlfriends bring some food to the Hileman home.

"I wanted Bill to know that John and I were here for him," Roxanna said.

How they met

The Greens and the Hilemans first met in the summer of 2007 when Roxanna sent out a blast e-mail to the neighborhood introducing her family. She apologized for some temporary construction going on at the home and said she wanted to connect with the community.

They'd just moved to Tucson and Roxanna was still adjusting to the desert after living in Pennsylvania. They wanted to meet other families.

The Hilemans' children are grown. When the Greens moved to Tucson, their children were both under the age of 10.

Suzi is Jewish and her husband, in Suzi's words, is a "non-practicing whatever." The Greens are practicing Catholics.

Bill Hileman is a retired financier. John Green is a former professional athlete, who was a Triple-A pitcher and now works for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But the families had some commonalities, too. Both were recent transplants to Tucson with East Coast ties. The Hilemans, who met at Cornell University, moved to Tucson from Marin County, Calif., in 2006 after scouring the country for an ideal place to retire.

Christina-Taylor was born in Delaware, and the family had lived in Maryland and Pennsylvania before heading west.

Suzi, a native New Yorker, is a retired social worker. Roxanna, also a native New Yorker who grew up in New York and Tucson, spent the last 11 years being a mom and doing fundraising for cancer and autism.

Also eager to connect with people in Tucson, Suzi quickly returned Roxanna's e-mail. The two families began getting together to watch sports.

"The Greens came over that Sunday," Hileman said of their first meeting. "Roxanna brought a tray of food. She always brings food. That's how she was raised."

The Hilemans were familiar with John's dad, Dallas Green, who pitched in the major leagues and managed the Philadelphia Phillies when they won the World Series in 1980. Bill and Suzi were living in Chicago and raising their two children when Dallas Green built the Chicago Cubs into a contender in the '80s as general manager.

On that first Sunday they spent together, Christina-Taylor found a game of pick-up sticks in a closet at the Hileman house. Her brother found some toys. Christina-Taylor told Suzi that though she had played pickup sticks before, she needed to be reminded of the rules.

They started playing, and Christina-Taylor asked her mother to "tell Mrs. Suzi a story." Suzi looked over at Roxanna. That's when Christina-Taylor, ever the competitor, cheated as Suzi looked away.

"She looked at me with those chocolate eyes and to-die-for skin," Suzi said. "Then I did the same thing - I got her distracted and cheated behind her back. We laughed about it, and it became a joke of ours."

The families saw each other regularly after that. Suzi took the Green children on outings, too, including a behind-the-scenes tour of the Reid Park Zoo sponsored by the Cornell Club of Southern Arizona.

"Suzi is an intelligent, Type A New Yorker. So she calls it like she sees it," Roxanna said. "Christina-Taylor was attracted to strong, smart, honest women."

Suzi reminded the little girl of her grandma Yolanda, who had died Oct. 30, 2009.

"Basically, Suzi was a young grandma figure for Christina-Taylor, who respected our president like she did."

On Friday, Jan. 7, Suzi received a robo-call for a meet-and-greet with Giffords.

She invited Roxanna, Dallas and Christina-Taylor to the Saturday morning event. But Roxanna needed to take Dallas to karate, so that left Suzi and Christina-Taylor to enjoy a girls' day out.

They'd planned on meeting Giffords, then getting their nails done and having lunch at Wildflower. On the way to see Giffords, Christina-Taylor told Suzi she wanted to talk to the congresswoman about pollution and the BP oil spill.

They held hands in line, and talked about the number of senators in Congress. Christina-Taylor was impressed with Giffords.

"She (Giffords) was beautifully dressed and perfectly accessorized. That was very important to Christina," Suzi said.

"She's really pretty," the little girl told Suzi.

"She's married to an astronaut," Suzi told Christina-Taylor as they moved to the front of the line. "And you are going to get to shake her hand."

Suzi had never heard the sound of gunfire before.

"It literally tore the fabric of the air," she said.

"The kindest people"

On Jan. 19 - the day after Suzi was released from UMC - Bill was pushing his wife around their neighborhood in a wheelchair.

They saw John Green's SUV coming down the street. He stopped the vehicle, rolled down the window, grabbed Bill by the arm and gave him a big, long hug.

"The Greens are the kindest, strongest, most generous people," Suzi said. "I don't know where they get their strength."

Last Sunday the Greens and Hilemans had planned on getting together to watch football. Dallas wanted to see the Hilemans' 27-year-old son, who was in town. Though the Hilemans told her not to, Roxanna insisted she'd bring food, "because that's what Roxanna does," Suzi said.

Ultimately, the plans were put on hold for another Sunday - everyone was too tired. Suzi knows there will be a rain check, though she also knows the family get-togethers will never be the same. Someone will always be missing.

"This isn't about politics or the person who did the shooting. I don't want him in my heart or my head," Suzi said. "This is about a personal tragedy."

She's committed to carrying on Christina-Taylor's legacy and is encouraging donations to a charitable fund the Greens have established in her name. When she recovers, Suzi also wants to promote intergenerational mentoring, the importance of community and the benefits of physical fitness, which she credits with speeding her recovery from her multiple wounds.

"Christina will never be able to fulfill her incredible potential," Suzi wrote last week in her blog. "It's on us now to do it for her."

How to donate

The Green family has set up a charitable fund to honor the life and memory of their daughter - the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Fund. The fund will be held by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.

Here are the ways to make a donation in memory of Christina-Taylor:

• Online at www.cfsoaz.org - click on the link to the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Fund.

• E-mail christinataylorgreenmemorial@cfsoaz.org

• Call (520) 545-0313.

• Send a check to: The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green, 2250 E. Broadway, Tucson 85719

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or sinnes@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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