By Kristin Fox
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest honor, was awarded posthumously to Charles Jerry Sutton on Friday, November 3 at the Jerry Sutton Safety Training Center. His children, Renee McCall and Chuck Sutton, accepted the award on behalf of their father at a program and reception with family and friends.
Since 1963, North Carolina governors have reserved their highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, for persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.
Among the honors and awards the Governor of North Carolina can bestow, none is more valued than The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Since its creation in 1963, it has been presented to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina or some other special achievement, and to others as a gesture of friendship and good will.
Terry Bell opened the program recalling his friendship with Jerry Sutton.
“Jerry Sutton was a dear friend of mine; our association together goes back to our childhood when we square danced with our siblings, growing to a lifelong involvement together,” said Bell. “We served together on the Southwestern Community College board for 24 years with Jerry serving on the board for a total of 32 years. He was truly a servant to this community, county, and state.”
“When you were around Jerry very long you knew exactly what he was about,” he added. “First family, his family meant more to him than anything, then his love for the Clarks Chapel Community, the Clarks Chapel Fire Department, Macon County Schools, Macon County and western North Carolina. No one knows how many lives he touched during his lifetime.”
Sutton passed away on June 29, 2022. He was a native of Macon County and was the son of the late Charlie and Hazel Penland Sutton. He was married to his wife Jean McCollum for 55 years, was the father of two children and had four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Jerry was a graduate of Franklin High School and NC State University. He was a lifelong member of the Clarks Chapel United Methodist Church.
He was a dairy farmer in the Clarks Chapel community and later turned to a career in public service, retiring as the director of Governor James B. Hunt’s western office.
Dedicated to the community he called home, Jerry served on the Macon County School Board and Macon County Board of Commissioners. As a strong supporter of public education, he served on the Board of Directors of Southwestern Community College for over 30 years.
He led community development efforts in Clarks Chapel, Macon County and in western North Carolina. Community development efforts led to the founding of Clarks Chapel Fire Department, the first rural fire department in far western North Carolina, where he served as chief for three decades.
Representative Karl Gillespie presented the award to Sutton’s family on behalf of Governor Roy Cooper:
“Governor Roy Cooper confers upon Charles Jerry Sutton ‘the honor of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine to Jerry Charles Sutton, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary privileged to enjoy fully all rights granted to members of this exalted order among which is the special privilege to propose the following North Carolina Toast in select company anywhere in the free world: ‘Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine, The summer land where the sun doth shine, Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great, Here’s to “down home”, the Old North State!’”
Prior to the presentation of the award, Gillespie read a letter from Senator Kevin Corbin who was unable to attend the ceremony.
“I’ve always had the upmost respect for Jerry Sutton,” said Corbin. “I remember him fondly as a farmer, school board member, county commissioner and Southwestern Community College board member, but perhaps I remember him best as my baseball coach.”
“Jerry was an outstanding man and an asset to this community,” he added. “He certainly is missed, and this honor is most deserving. The world indeed is a better place because it was blessed with Jerry Sutton.”
“This honor is a culmination of all that dad cherished in his lifetime, said Renee Sutton. “Daddy believed it was an honor to milk cows every day, to plow a field, to serve as a firefighter and to open the county fair each year, to serve in county and state government and to plan every community club. In fact, all of daddy’s dreams and visions were from two places — his roots and from his relationships and how our lives would be greatly improved if we all worked together. He awoke every morning and ended every night reviewing his plans for the day.”
“Because of his love for people, his community, county and state and his unceasing determination, he became a visionary for progress,” she added. “He became the most valuable of his kind. His love for our family instilled a desire to serve others and to preserve where we live, to grow and stand firm in commitment. Even into his last hours he loved and served with his whole heart.”