William Harry Suttenfield ’42

William Harry Suttenfield ’42, 90, a former Westport, Conn., resident, died July 15 in Keene, N.H. 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. 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 and N.C. 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. The next step in Suttenfield’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, Suttenfield 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 U.S. to be reunited with Suttenfield. Married in 1946, in Charlotte, N.C., the newlyweds soon moved to New York, where Suttenfield 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, Suttenfield 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, Suttenfield remained active in the National PT Officers Association. In 1962, while serving as president of the association, Suttenfield 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 Suttenfield’s clarinet playing in the Pacific. When Suttenfield 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, the Suttenfields 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. Suttenfield 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. Suttenfield’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. Suttenfield’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 the Suttenfields moved to Langdon Place in Keene, N.H., in late 2007, he played almost daily and gave frequent concerts to the residents. His last performance was just a few weeks before his death. Suttenfield lost his beloved Helen to cancer in 2009. He is survived by his four children, Linda Joyce Suttenfield, 137 Harding St., Medfield, MA 02052-1029, Walker Coast, Elizabeth deMartelly, and Keith Suttenfield; his grandchildren, Christopher and Skye Suttenfield, Alexander and Keith Bennett, and Iva deMartelly; and his niece, Helen Robertson (Brian), her daughter-in-law, Vivian Suttenfield, and sons-in-law, Jonathan Bennett and Mike deMartelly.