Wednesday, July 27, 2011
William H. Suttenfield, 90
William Harry Suttenfield, a former Westport resident, died July 15 in Keene, N.H. He was 90.
Born June 30, 1921 in Charlotte, N.C. he was “a renaissance man, known for his deft musical talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and dedication to his family,” his family said.
He celebrated his 90th birthday in New Hampshire a week before breaking his hip. He died from pneumonia following surgery, his family said.
At age 12, he began his first career as a professional musician. He spent his youth playing alto saxophone and later clarinet in dance bands throughout the South.
Music would be a central theme during his entire life; he continued playing while attending Davidson College and North Carolina State in Raleigh, where he graduated with a degree in textile engineering.
His music would be a touchstone for him as he took on new careers, his family said.
The next step in Harry’s journey was the Navy. Upon completing Midshipman’s school in January 1944, he was made captain of a PT boat and sent to the Pacific arena, where he was soon promoted to squadron leader.
In January 1945, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for heroic achievements in the Philippines.
Adm. T.C. Kincaid, commander of the Seventh Fleet, cited him “for distinguishing himself by heroic and meritorious conduct…Lt. Suttenfield’s exemplary leadership and direction…distinguished him among those performing duties of the same character.”
Four months later, while on leave in Sydney, Australia, Harry met his beloved Helen Margaret Colyer, a secretary at the American Red Cross Officer’s Club. After a three-day courtship, they became engaged.
A year and a half later, Helen traveled by ship for six weeks through the Panama Canal to the United States to be reunited with Harry. Married in 1946, in Charlotte, N.C., the newlyweds soon moved to New York, where Harry began his next career, this time in the textile industry.
In the following three decades, he worked for R.R. Lowenstein and Glen Raven Mills in a variety of roles, and in the last role before starting his own company he served as vice president for market planning for Allied Chemical Corp.
In 1969, Harry started Westport Industries, a textile company located in South Carolina, where one of his personal goals was to provide employment opportunities to create diversity and equity in this economically depressed area.
Throughout his life, Harry remained active in the National PT Officers Association. In 1962, while serving as president of the association, Harry had the honor of presenting John F. Kennedy with a Steuben sculpture commemorating his naval service.
During this visit in the oval office, the president recalled his fond memories of Harry’s clarinet playing in the Pacific. When Harry shared this memory he recalled the president, addressing the entire group of PT officers, as saying, “I shouldn’t be receiving this recognition—you all should. I lost my boat.”
During his career, Harry and Helen resided in Westport where they raised their four children. The family traveled back and forth from Connecticut to Nelson, N.H.—two places they considered home.
They enjoyed boating on Long Island Sound, family weekends of skiing in New Hampshire, and tennis with friends wherever a court was available.
Harry retired in the late 1970s, at which point he and Helen began to divide their time among family and friends in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Australia.
Harry’s music brought people into his life. In the Westport years, he and Helen often hosted jam sessions at their home with area musicians, including one recording session where they were joined by Dave Brubeck.
Harry’s clarinet traveled with him until his final days, entertaining family and friends with the lively tunes of Benny Goodman and other swing-era musicians.
After Harry and Helen moved to Langdon Place in Keene, N.H., in late 2007, Harry played almost daily and gave frequent concerts to the residents. His last performance was just a few weeks before his death.
Harry lost his beloved Helen to cancer in 2009.
He is survived by his four children: Linda Joyce Suttenfield of Medfield, Mass.; Walker Coast of Nelson, N.H.; Elizabeth deMartelly of Nelson; and Keith Suttenfield of Coffs Harbour, Australia; his grandchildren Christopher and Skye Suttenfield of Australia; Alexander and Keith Bennett of Medfield; and Iva deMartelly of Nelson.
Also, his niece, Helen Robertson and her husband, Adm. Brian Robertson of Sydney, her daughter-in-law Vivian Suttenfield and sons-in-law, Jonathan Bennett and Mike deMartelly.
A joint memorial service to celebrate the lives of Helen and Harry Suttenfield will be held on Saturday July 30 at 1 p.m. in the Congregational Church in Nelson, N.H.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library in Nelson.
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