From the melodious sound of the tune wafting through the J. Foster Phillips Funeral Home, to the words delivered by family members and dignitaries, to the endless gallery of photos flashing from a monitor, one thing was consistent in the marvelous memory of Leatrice O’ Farrell Sutton—her infectious smile. Her remarkable life, which came to a close Dec. 2, at age 92, was celebrated last Friday in Queens, but it resonated beyond the corridors there, particularly when evoked by such luminaries as former Mayor David Dinkins, Dr. Alexander Sutton Jr., Al Turner, former Congressman Charles Rangel and NAACP stalwart Hazel Dukes.
“She was my friend and always supportive of our causes,” Dukes recalled, her words perfectly timed with an image of Sutton beaming from the monitor. One spectator viewing the sequence of photos of Sutton’s life flickering by commented, “She looks just like Lena Horne.” And there certainly was a lovely resemblance to the great singer and actress.
But Sutton had her own beauty and her own contributions beyond being the wife of the incomparable Percy Ellis Sutton, who died in 2009. And many of these attributes were movingly recalled by her son Pierre “Pepe” Sutton and her granddaughter Keisha Sutton-James. “She was affectionate, an advocate and active,” Sutton-James cited, struggling to control her emotions, “and then there was her smile.”
That smile and the happiness Sutton radiated were underscored in Father Darryl James’ eulogy. “She possessed a quiet dignity, a tranquility and integrity we will miss,” he intoned. “And God has given her new life.”
Her former life and the obituary was alternately read by Nola and Shelby James, Sutton’s great-granddaughters, and there was a collective chuckle from the crowd when they recalled Sutton’s love of solving jigsaw and crossword puzzles, a passion she instilled in Shelby James.
Sutton was born in New York Hospital April 13, 1925, to proud parents Edna and Patrick O’Farrell. She was a graduate of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx and was saluted by her classmates for her brilliance as a student and her gregariousness. These traits were obviously recognized immediately by Percy Sutton when he encountered her walking through Times Square one fine day in 1943. A few months later, on Nov. 5, they were married.
From the outset, it must have been an adventure to be the wife of such a dynamic and energetic husband as Percy Sutton, and it was often just enough to keep a busy household together, to say nothing of the numerous organizations and institutions that requested her membership. A few of them, including the St. Albans Naval Hospital, the Barrister’s Wives of New York and the board of directors of the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of Greater New York, which she chaired, were cited in the funeral program.
But there is no way to discuss her husband’s outstanding accomplishments without noting how instrumental Sutton was in helping to orchestrate and arrange those cultural, political, legal and entrepreneurial plateaus.
As Mayor Dinkins observed, “It was not how long she lived, but how well she lived.” And death, as he concluded, is not the end.
Death is not the end of her life and certainly not the end of her legacy when you consider the numerous Suttons at the funeral, including Iessa Mitchell Sutton whose splendid baritone version of “The Lord’s Prayer” was warmly received.
Sutton leaves to mourn her passing, her son Pierre; stepdaughter Cheryl; daughters-in-law Charlotte and Karen; grandchildren Keisha, and Keisha’s husband Michael, Maximillian and Danielle; great-granddaughters Nola and Shelby; nephews Patrick and Alfred along with Patrick’s wife Jan and their daughters Cheryl and Robin and Jamie and their children; cousins Muriel Judge and family, the Phillips and Karteron families; and countless friends and associates, such as Elinor and Susan Tatum; Billy Mitchell; the Williams family, Lloyd, Valorie, Ade and Grace; and Londel Davis Jr.
She is interred at the Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.