A legendary athlete who spent 35 years at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point and was the first female athletic director at any of the five national service academies has died.

Susan "Sue" Petersen Lubow, a dedicated mother, school board member and church official from Locust Valley, died Monday of pancreatic cancer in hospice. She was 61.

Born 1954 in Mineola, Petersen Lubow graduated from MacArthur High School in Levittown, received a bachelor's degree from Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1975 and a master's in health education from Hofstra University in 1979.

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She was a dedicated swimmer and an All-American in the 200 individual medley and the medley relay at Springfield.

"All she wanted to do was swim from the time she was 8 years old," said her mother, Hazel Petersen, 87, of Mill Neck.

Her daughter joined the academy in 1979 as a physical education teacher and was appointed athletic director in 1989.

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During her tenure, Petersen Lubow expanded and enhanced sports programs, created the hall of fame and started many traditions and awards. She was also swimming coach.

"She never wanted to be satisfied with the status quo," said Michael Smolens, associate athletic director and men's head soccer coach. "She always kept us pushing the envelope as players and coaches."

Susan Petersen Lubow at her first day on the job at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1979. Photo Credit: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

She was on a number of committees for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference and involved with both USA Swimming and NCAA Swimming & Diving. She also served on the Locust Valley Central School District's board of education.

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"She lived a short life but she really lived it," Hazel Petersen said.

Petersen Lubow stepped down as athletic director in 2014 to spend more time with daughter Sarah, 14, but stayed on as a professor.

"She was a role model and mentor to so many student-athletes, coaches and staff members and everywhere you turn here at the academy,you can see Sue's contributions," her successor, athletic director Maureen "Mo" White said in a news release.

Friends and family said Petersen Lubow had a knack for motivating and encouraging people. "She just seemed to know how to get people to do things," Hazel Petersen said.

At First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay, Petersen Lubow was treasurer and on the governing board. Few there knew her as an athletic powerhouse who affected so many coaches, midshipmen and athletes over the years. She was a helper, an organizer and a devoted member.

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"She just didn't wear that on her sleeve," the Rev. Jeffrey Prey said. "For us, she was just Sue, mother of Sarah, helping us out with the Christmas pageant."

And she was always there to help out.

"She cared deeply," Prey said. "If she was going to be involved, she made a difference when she was involved."

That understated nature shone through in 2014 when Petersen Lubow was inducted into the USMMA Athletics Hall of Fame. During her speech she talked about her unintended role in life.

"Maybe I did break through barriers and overcome obstacles to give young girls a chance of following their dreams," she said. "I just never looked at myself in that light. I chose my profession because I wanted to make a difference, not because I wanted to be a trailblazer, but in reflection -- whether I like it or not -- I guess I was."

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In addition to mother and daughter, she is survived by her ex-husband, Stuart, to whom she was married for 24 years. Her father, Walter, and brother, Bruce, preceded her in death.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Mariners' Memorial Chapel on the academy grounds in Kings Point. A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay, 60 E. Main St., Oyster Bay, NY 11771; or Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, pancreatic cancer research, Attn: development office, 1 Bungtown Rd., Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724.