Callers to Park Ridge Taxi often had the same request.
“Please send out Susie.”
Driver Susie Burns was shrink and chauffeur to the carless and the careworn. She treated them as if she was their big sister — one with a GPS implanted in her head. She listened to their troubles. If she thought they needed it, she scolded them.
Ms. Burns gave customers her cell number, and if they called for a ride in the middle of the night, she’d climb out of bed to get them.
Some phoned because they felt the walls closing in.
“She took me on rides to get me out of the house,” said Debbie Sciortino, 56, of Des Plaines, who said she struggles with depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments. “I’d call her and say ‘Can you take me to Kentucky Fried Chicken?’ And she would laugh. She just got me out of the house.”
Other times, “She would call and say, ‘I haven’t heard from you, Debbie, are you okay?’ ’’ Sciortino recalled.
Ms. Burns, 65, of Niles, who drove cabs more than 20 years in and around Park Ridge, died July 25 of a heart attack, said her daughter, Brittany Burns.
“Susie” was the driver of choice for many senior citizens, people with disabilities, and workers who relied on her to get them to the office on time, said a relative, Mary Ward.
“She made her customers her friends,” said Martin Bukoll.
Ms. Burns regularly drove Bukoll, a senior citizen with problems getting around, to his investment job at Northern Trust downtown.
“Her warmth went beyond a commercial transaction,” he said. “She cared about you and what was going on with you.”
“She had the perfect connection between her and her customers,” said Dean Dinev, the Bulgaria-born owner of the company where she worked, Park Ridge Taxi. “They call her all the time because they love her. [If] the customer called her in the middle of the night, she is there.”
“She was like a fireman, running out and driving people all over the place,” said one of her five sisters, Patti Carpenter, who operates Pink Taxi in Park Ridge.
Ms. Burns used to say, ‘I just love my clients, and I love what I do,” said another sister, Judy Foster.
It wasn’t unusual for Ms. Burns to be on the road, off and on, for 18 hours a day.
“She got up usually at 4:30 to 4:45, to get [one client to work at] Jewel,” said Brittany Burns. Her last ride, around 11 p.m., was for another Jewel employee, Judy Ratajczyk, who needed a lift home.
If she couldn’t get Ratajczyk, she’d arrange for another driver to pick her up. “She just wanted to be sure that I was comfortable getting home,” Ratajczyk said.
Ms. Burns raised four children: a biological daughter, Brittany, and three kids she adopted — another daughter, Cassidy “Bo” Burns, and two sons, Eric “Eri” Foster-Burns and Victor Burns. Bo had been removed as a child from a neglectful setting; Victor is quadriplegic, and Eri had after-effects of shaken-baby syndrome, relatives said. She co-parented Eri with her sister, Judy.
“She took care of us,” said Bo Burns.
Ms. Burns also opened her home to several foster children.
She attended Maine East High School in Park Ridge before graduating from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. She wound up selling and investing in real estate.
After her first marriage ended in divorce, she found a new love, Geoff Ward. They lived together 25 years. But the stalled economy affected her investments, and after Ward died a decade ago, “She couldn’t make ends meet,” Brittany Burns said. She’d worked for Park Ridge Taxi in the 1980s and 1990s, so she returned to the company from 2005 until she died, Patti Carpenter said.
Ms. Burns is also survived by three more sisters, Kathy Spears, Carol Steffgen and Barbara Lauesen.
A memorial was planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Park Ridge Community Church.
Eri Burns planned to sing the Alabama song “Angels Among Us.”
“I was a shaken-syndrome baby,” he said. “They took me in when I was 12 weeks. They raised me along with my brother, who was quadriplegic.”
Without her, “I would have become an orphan,” he said. “I was told I would never walk or talk. I amazed all my doctors. I walked, I talked.”