[Funeral Program for Percy Ellis Sutton, January 6, 2010] Page: 3 of 10
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Percy Ellis Sutton was born November 24,1920, the youngest of 15 children born to Samuel "S.J." and Lillian V. Sutton,
jimmy, as he was affectionately nicknamed, grew up in a close knit family where discipline, hard work , family love and
commitment were paramont. His father, Samuel J. Sutton, born into slavery, was college educated and was the principal
of Wheatley High School in San Antonio for over 50 years. His mother, Lillian, was a college and elementary school
teacher and Percy's first grade teacher. His father was both his junior high and high school principal. Several of Percys
brothers and sisters taught him before he graduated high school. His beloved mother was the light of his youth and taught
by example values like patience, persistence and commitment to the welfare of others. Committed to all children she
founded the Ella Austin orphanage in San Antonio. 'Hie Suttons were and remain a family of achievers who overcame
much adversity including racial discrimination to rise to positions of power and influence based on the tenacity and
capabilities of its individual members.
Percy grew up on the ' Rocky Crest" family farm, east of San Antonio, milking cows and delivering eggs. He was taught
that with opportunities come responsibility. Accounting for his strong and tireless work ethic all of the surviving 12
Sutton children were expected to work in family businesses including a roller skating rink, mattress factory, real estate,
funeral supply and funeral home. Ingrained in Percy were credos such as do right, stand for what is right and just, do your
best, never look down on the less fortunate, injustice is unacceptable, and giving back is as important as gaining. Nightly
there were poetry readings including "If", "Invictus", "Hianatopsis" and "From God's Trombones". Despite his father's
objections, Percy and his brother Alexander joined the Boy Scouts, Percy became the first Eagle Scout (the highest rank
in scouting) in Texas. In 1930 discrimination was alive in Texas. Percy got his first taste of it when he was harassed and
jailed at the age of 13 for passing out NAACP leaflets in an all white neighborhood.
He took up stunt-flying on the barnstorming circuit, but gave it up after a friend crashed. He attended Prairie View A &
M College in Texas, Hampton Institute in Virginia, and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. While at Tuskegee he received
combat flight training in the Army Air Corp and eventually joined the ranks of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen. During
World War II, he served as an intelligence officer with the Tuskegee Airmen and was awarded combat citations while in
the Mediterranean theater. He served as a judge advocate during the Korean conflict.
Percy met Leatrice O'Farrell while in the Army Air Corp. In 1943, prior to being stationed overseas during World War
II, they married. A few years after the birth of his son, Pierre, the marriage ended. Percy then married Eileen (Clark)
Grevenberg and to that union his daughter, Cheryl Lynn, was born. Percy and Eileen were later divorced and Percy re-
married Leatrice. Leatrice remained his "bride," as he referred, to her until his death, a total of 64 years.
After the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill and received a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. While in school, he
worked three jobs — as a post office clerk from 4 p.m. until midnight, a subway conductor from 12:30 a.m. until 8:30 in
the morning and weekends waiting tables at Lundy's in Sheepshead Bay. He reported to law school at 9:30 each morning.
This schedule continued for three years until graduation. He became a distinguished civil rights lawyer establishing
with his brother Oliver a law general practice in Harlem. His practice defended organizations such as the NAACP and
individuals, notably, Malcolm X. During the early civil rights era he participated in sit-ins and demonstrations throughout
the South as a Freedom Rider.
Mainstream politics dominated his life in the 1960s and 1970s, during which he served as a member of the New York
state legislature. In 1966 he was appointed Manhattan Borough President, where he served for 11 years until his historic
run for mayor of New York City. In 1972, Percy along with veteran broadcaster Hal Jackson, his brother Oliver, Clarence
B. Jones and other African American investors purchased and then operated the city's first black-owned radio station.
Percy's best friends growing up were his brothers and sisters, particularly Oliver "Snookie", Essie "Susie" and Alexander
"Buster" the ones closest in age. Throughout his life he involved family members in business and social service ventures.
Percy also mentored his nieces, nephews and children into his businesses and political ventures. He often quipped, "If you
pray for only one thing, let it be for an idea."
Every year while his mother lived Percy and Leatrice made pilgrimages to the family homestead as did other siblings to
be with family. When together the Sutton clan were known for and passed time with constant joking, satirical wit and
unending support for each other and for causes that mattered. After retirement he spent some of his leisure time farming
at Rocky Crest Too, their home in Goshen, N.Y. With joy and pride he shared vegetable & fruit crops with family, friends
A loving family man, a savvy politician, a mentor, a sage, a man who spoke truth to power, a man who gave to others, a
man who treated all the same, a consummate orator, a weaver of tales, a man who made you feel special like a long lost
friend even after a few minutes together, the family patriarch, who made you feel like he was yours and yours alone; a
good father, a good husband and an elegant gentle soul. Summing the life of such an iconic person is nearly impossible.
Percy Sutton is survived by his wife, Leatrice, sister, Essie M. "Susie", children Pierre "Pepe" and Cheryl, grandchildren,
Keisha, Maximillian, Danielle and Sierra, great-granddaughters, Nola and Shelby, daughters-in-laws Charlotte and Karen,
and numerous nieces and nephews.
He is missed.
Here’s what’s next.
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[Funeral Program for Percy Ellis Sutton, January 6, 2010], pamphlet, January 6, 2010; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth247836/m1/3/: accessed April 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting San Antonio Public Library.