Alumna Has a Head for Reinvention

Alumna Has a Head for Reinvention

Coonskin caps, cowboy hats, tricorns, headdresses, football helmets: Susi Beatty ’86 has always worn a lot of hats.

“Oh, there was a hat for everything – one for every character she took on,” says Betty Beatty of the plucky, towheaded “wild child” that her daughter was even as a little girl. “She had a different hat for whoever she was, whatever she was into.”

Nothing has changed, really – except that, as an adult, she doesn’t need to accessorize with headgear every time she reinvents herself. Whether it’s as the most promising vocalist of the year, the author of the children’s book of the year, an international karate tournament winner or the overall heavyweight bodybuilding champion: Susi Beatty has long been getting recognized for what she puts into a role, not what she wears for it.

“Besides, my hair was so big in the ’80s, you couldn’t fit a hat over it if you’d tried,” laughs the country music star–turned–entrepreneur/real estate investor, who now serves as the CEO and president of the Beatty Companies and owner of Live Like a Local. “My hair and me: We were always hard to pin down. Just flying away in all different directions.”

That may be so, but there was never any real question in Beatty’s mind where she was headed: She was going to be a
rock star.

“All I ever wanted to do was write songs and sing,” says Beatty, who – as a sophomore at the College – was spending weekends sneaking off to Nashville to write songs for a publishing company. “That’s how my life got started.” 

Pretty soon, she was recording an album and taking it on tour through Australia.

It was her country album, One of a Kind, with Capitol Records, however, that really got the world listening. “Beatty has such an intense, warm, rock-a-bluesy country voice, it seems amazing that she has lived to be 27 without becoming a big star,” states the May 7, 1990, “Picks and Pans Review” column in People magazine. That year, Major Independent Record Label Awards named Beatty the Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year and named her song, “Nobody Loves Me Like the Blues,” the Single of the Year. That song made it to No. 41 on the country music Billboard, and its video was named the 1991 Video of the Year.

But the fans are what made it all real.

Photos by Leslie McKellar Susi Beatty has lived many lives from that of a country music star to a bodybuilder. Now she's focusing on philanthropy with her Big Cat Scholarship to support CofC athletes.

Photos by Leslie McKellar Susi Beatty has lived many lives from that of a country music star to a bodybuilder. Now she’s focusing on philanthropy with her Big Cat Scholarship to support CofC athletes.

“They wanted me to sign everything – their heads, their cigarette packs, their babies. It was crazy. People would ask me, ‘Can I touch you?’ ‘Can my son touch you?’” says Beatty, who spent the summer of 1991 opening shows for Hank Williams Jr. on his Lone Wolf Tour. “I can’t tell you the feeling of standing in front of 40,000 country music fans cheering – this sea of humanity – and all those eyes on you. To be the recipient of all that: It sent every nerve on my body to the top of my skin. It was beautiful. My dreams were all happening – it was everything I’d thought it’d be and 1,000 times more.”

And then it was over. During surgery for a slipped disc in her neck – a result of the many sports injuries she’d accumulated over the years – her vocal chords were irreparably damaged. Her vocal range was gone.

“My world fell apart. I lost it all: my career, my identity, my passion, my dreams,” she says softly. “When something like that happens, you lose yourself. The only way you can go on is, you have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and work through the tears. You have to reinvent yourself.”

And that she did: She went back to school and earned a master’s in clinical psychology; she bought and sold a GNC franchise; she got married and divorced (twice); she moved to Portugal and worked as a tile laborer; she renovated six homes, two of which she then rented out through Live Like a Local, her hospitality business; and she established the family-focused entertainment firm, Susi B. Marketing.

And then she was an award-winning author. She’d created a character named Angie the Ant, who became not only the official mascot for Prevent Child Abuse America, but also the star character in Beatty’s book Angie the Ant and the Bumblebee Tree – which Creative Child magazine named as its Creative Toy Awards 2008 Book of the Year in Family Values – and, later, in her junior novel, The Curse of the Seedling, the Creative Child 2010 Book of the Year.

“I’d always loved writing, and I was so happy to be doing it for something good,” says Beatty, explaining that half of the proceeds from the book sales go to protecting children from abuse. “The awards were secondary to giving back.”

Not that Beatty doesn’t like victory. She loves it, actually. She’ll do what it takes to win, and she won’t quit until she does. She withstood years of injuries from Wado Ruh karate before she won the international conference in Tokyo for the U.S. Karate Federation women’s team and finally quit the sport. Fortunately, she didn’t have to stick to bodybuilding nearly as long.

“I decided on July 4, 2012, I wanted to do bodybuilding, and so I did what I had to do to compete to win,” says Beatty, who won the heavyweight division at the Excalibur competition at the College’s Sottile Theatre just one month later and the overall bodybuilding title at the Jen Hendershott Classic that November. “I did what I came to do, and then I moved on.”

sb-4That drive, that spirit of determination: That’s what Beatty hangs her hat on, time and time again. And that’s what she admires in others, too.

“I’ve always been a frustrated athlete – and I appreciate people who come out fighting to win,” says Beatty, who is on the Board of Governors for the College’s School of Business and who established the Big Cat Scholarship to support Cougars student-athletes maintaining a 2.5 GPA or higher. “I wanted to combine my parents’ philanthropic emphasis on education and my passion for athleticism into a scholarship that invests in our student-athletes’ futures. One day, all athletes have to reinvent their careers, and that’s a lot easier to do when you have an education to fall back on. You have to be thinking about what you’re going to do next.”

As the executor of her late father’s estate, Beatty has been getting a lot of practice at investing in the future: Expanding the trust’s philanthropic reserves is one of her main responsibilities these days – that, and overseeing the Beatty Companies’ operations, brand and vision.

“I’m a leader. I have ideas. I’m rebranding and marketing to families and to the influence of technology in today’s world,” she says, explaining that she envisions her family’s shopping centers as outdoor, family-friendly gathering spots. “When I’m done with that, I’ll reinvent myself again. Who knows what I’ll become! It could be anything!”

Whatever the hat she puts on next, one thing is for sure: Susi Beatty will wear it well.