A ‘quintessential Good Samaritan’: Saint Michael’s community remembers Donald “Pappy” Sutton
A “force of nature” – that’s how Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue founder and former Chief Donald “Pappy” Sutton will be remembered by those who knew him, including alum and former Fire and Rescue member Pete Worrell ’79.
Worrell delivered the eulogy at Sutton’s funeral on Friday, Oct. 27 at the request of his former chief. Sutton passed away on Oct. 14 at the age of 95.
Worrell shared anecdotes of his years knowing Sutton – from having Sutton as a mentor while at Saint Michael’s to becoming lifelong friends. He described Sutton as passionate, kind, creative, generous, and a constant champion for the underdog.
“He saw what the world could become, and he saw what we could become,” Worrell said.
The quintessential Good Samaritan
According to Worrell, Sutton saw the immense potential of the students who signed up for Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue – a group of students that Worrell said was easy to underestimate.
“I don’t know about 2023, but in the 1970s and the 1980s, the Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue students were not the most academically endowed,” Worrell said. He added that Sutton “saw that we weren’t just the weird kids in the room, and when we came together in the same room, we weren’t the weird kids at all. It turns out we were achievers, and we could achieve more.”
In his homily, Rev. Brian J. Cummings, S.S.E. ’86 described Sutton as the “quintessential Good Samaritan.” The reading chosen as the gospel was the story of the Good Samaritan – a fitting story that aligned with Sutton’s own lifetime of generosity, not just at Saint Michael’s, but through Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, Camp Holy Cross, the Knights of Columbus, and myriad other organizations and initiatives to which Sutton gave his time and kindness.
Cummings described meetings with Sutton this past July and again shortly before his death during which Sutton described the ways he wanted to make other people’s lives better.
“We were sitting outside on a late Sunday afternoon at a picnic table, and this bigger-than-life man with a walker at 95 was still making plans about how to help and care for other people,” Cummings said. “Remarkable. On my last visit this last month, although he was very weak, he still mentioned how he wanted to help people in his life. This was what compelled Don.”
Cummings pointed out that in the gospel reading, a scholar asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Well, look at the way Don Sutton lived his life,” Cummings said. “Go and do likewise.”
‘Your duties are complete’
Before the funeral mass, Fire and Rescue members, alumni, Sutton’s loved ones, and local public safety officials gathered at the Sutton Firehouse for a bell ceremony and final alarm for Sutton. After the Firefighters’ Prayer was read and the bell struck nine times on the antique Saint Michael’s firetruck, a final call for Don Sutton came through the scanner system.
Hearing no response from Sutton, the person making the scanner call declared that after 54 years of service, Sutton’s duties were complete.
“Chief Sutton, Pappy, may you rest in peace,” the person on the scanner said.
A box containing Sutton’s cremated remains rode on the antique firetruck from the firehouse to the chapel, and again was placed back on the firetruck after the funeral was complete.
As the firetruck drove away after Mass, Sutton’s favorite song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra played over a speaker as his family members and friends looked on.
“…I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way. …”