Susan Carlson Biography & Resources
Susan Shepard was born in Hampton, Iowa in 1949 to Dana and June (Schiller) Shepard, the third of four children. While a senior in high school, Susan worked as a page for Iowa State Representative Charles Grassley. A star athlete, Susan won a track scholarship to the University of Nebraska in 1967. She transfered to the University of Minnesota in 1968 to be closer to her mother, who had moved to Minnesota. Susan took time off from college in 1971 to work on the legislative magazine Session Weekly in the Minnesota House Information Office. She earned her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1973 and her J.D. from Hamline University Law School in 1983, then returned to the Capitol to work for House Information in 1985-1986.
Susan married State Auditor Arne Carlson in 1985. The Carlsons had one daughter, in addition to two children from Arne's first marriage. Carlson served as governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999; Susan described her eight years as first lady as "a wonderful experience." She traveled widely on behalf of the state, visiting 67 of Minnesota's 87 counties, participating in trade missions to China and Scandinavia, and leading a delegation to Lausanne, Switzerland for the 1997 World Figure Skating Championships. In 1993 Susan, with the 1006 Summit Avenue Society, published the cookbook Minnesota Times and Tastes to raise money for renovation and furnishing of the Governor's Residence.
The true focus of Susan's work as first lady was Minnesota's children. The Carlsons welcomed many children, including foster children from St. Joseph's Home, to the Governor's Residence for holidays and events, and they challenged grade-school classes to achieve reading goals, rewarding success with lunch with the governor at the mansion. In 1991, Gov. Carlson appointed Susan co-chair of a bipartisan commission to report on the status of Minnesota children. The commission's recommendations resulted in an initiative called "Kids Can't Wait", which served as a blueprint for policy affecting children throughout both Carlson administrations.
Susan's crowning achievement as first lady was her work on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). In 1985 she began working as a referee in Hennepin County Court, where she saw the connection between parental alcohol abuse and mental and behavioral problems in children. In 1997 Susan spearheaded an initiative to develop a comprehensive plan to address FAS, resulting in legislation supporting diagnosis, prevention, and intervention programs. She earned national recognition for her work on this issue, which she continued after Gov. Carlson left office.