By Ellen Zoe Golden
Over a year ago, Barry and Suzye Lawson put their popular Villa Alegre Bed & Breakfast in Langosta up for sale. The couple had lived and worked in the property for almost 20 years and hosted thousands of guests from all over the world. They were very happy, but thought it was time to move on to the next phase of their life, still living in Tamarindo, but enjoying more free time and focusing on their support and scholarship charity Amigos de la Educación, as well as traveling the world. But, tragedy struck in April, when a home invasion resulted in Barry’s death. Suzye, who said that Barry would want her to keep smiling and move on, did just that. Then months later, she was attacked again outside of the same property. Most people would have given up and left town. But not Suzye. “I’m a survivor,” she told THE Tamarindo News. We talked with her about her life at Villa Alegre, and what she has planned now. And all the while, Suzye smiled.
THE Tamarindo News: How did you end up in Tamarindo with the Villa Alegre?
Suzye Lawson: We had been traveling all over the world, Turks & Caicos, Mexico, even Hawaii for a minute, looking for a place to have a bed and breakfast. We lived in the southern California area. One day our son walked up to us, with his long blond hair and surf board—I can still see him running up to us. He said, “It’s Costa Rica.” We didn’t even know where it was. Then we started coming here twice a year for four years looking for a place to remodel. Finally, our realtor said, you have to build. Barry came in ’96 and started to build on our two lots. He lived in a bodega in the parking lot with a TV and every Wednesday he’d play poker. There are still guys playing poker on Wednesday night now, and they keep an empty chair for Barry. I came 1 ½ years later. My part was to buy appliances and I made a business plan. I think one of the reasons we became successful is that our business plan included an exit plan, what we would do if one of us died, or if one of us didn’t like Costa Rica.
TN: What experience did you bring to your Bed and Breakfast?
SL: I have survivor skills from being 38 and just getting married. All that time, being single, taking care of myself. In California, I was a Medical Health Administrator and I ran 5 medical offices. Barry was self-employed, and a successful business. He was incredibly good with people. At Villa Alegre, he became the breakfast chef, made things like Barry Butter, mora and butter in a food processor. And he never made the same breakfast twice. He was a very interesting man. I managed the staff. We shared the business and work, sent thank you notes. Guests came back again and again.
TN: Why did you put the business up for sale a year ago?
SL: I needed my knee redone from walking up and down those 37 steps to our second level. Barry was put together with bubblegum and rubber bands. He had blown out 2 shoulders, 2 knees, had hip replacement, a broken ankle. What he did, sports or work, he did 100%. We thought we had two grown kids so it was a good time to make a lifestyle change. We were tired. I’m 70. Let’s sell the place and move to a condo, finish up our scholarship kids. We have 3 in University and 7 working towards that. And we’d travel, work on our bucket list. I’m still going to do a lot of the stuff on our bucket list. I’ve got Barry in my travel pack.
TN: How did you feel about everything after the first incident when the guys came in and attacked you and Barry, which resulted in the theft of all your money and in Barry’s death?
SL: The first incident did not trigger my wanting to leave Costa Rica. This property is my 401k. I thought afterwards, I’d be fine. I’d get a job. During the event, we were wrapped in Saran Wrap (plastic wrap), and they chipped my front teeth, but nothing really they did to me was visible. Barry you could see the stuff that they did to him, he was in such a bad way.
TN: I remember seeing you afterwards and you were devastated about his loss, but then a few weeks later you smiled when we talked.
SL: I was pretty clear that Barry would want me to stay here and finish our plan. I have to say, I had a good communication with him when he was alive and I felt his presence with me for several months after his passing. He was a super strong dude. I have a theory that sometimes spirits have to stay and make sure everything is okay. I will be alright.
TN: Tell me about the second attack which happened recently.
SL: The second incident has made me want to leave Villa Alegre. It happened outside behind the building, near the clothesline. I heard my dog barking, and thought the noise was a raccoon. I don’t think I was targeted, they were just looking around and I cornered them, so they fought. The home invasion was tough, and losing Barry of course. The second time I was jumped and it made me want to leave this area.
BL: No, Tamarindo has provided me with really true friendships. Until Barry died, I didn’t realize how many people like me. At first, people gave me space because I really needed it, then they were there for me. It made me see it would be stupid to move.
TN: You seem to have such a positive outlook.
SL: I can’t figure out any other way to be. The other way feels toxic. I wish I could come up with a sentence to describe how I am, but it changes daily.
TN: How is Amigos de la Educacion doing? Were you able to replace some of the money that was stolen from them?
SL: Amigos is fine. A lot of donations came in. As a matter of fact, we were able to take on a new scholarship student. My new thing is I’m working on security for the town.
TN: What does this involve?
SL: I met with Karim Bendjelloul of Close Personal Security to see what our options are. He said the local police are not trained properly. Honestly, a policeman making $500 a month is not going to do anything if he sees a problem. And, we need more vehicles. If they arrest someone, what are they going to do, put him on the back of a motorcycle? Karim needs radios, bulletproof vests and guns and if he gets the money for these things, he’ll put 15 trained guys out on the street to protect us. I’m trying to raise $10,000 for this, and I’m going to ask the Embassy if we could have one of their used vehicles. (Anyone who wants to donate can call Suyze at 2653-0270 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org).