Rita Kennedy Sutton

Rita Elizabeth (Kennedy) Sutton was born March 13, 1906 in the community of Imboden, near Appalachia, Virginia. Later, her name was changed to Rita Jo, for a favorite character in “Little Women.” The daughter of Benjamin F. and Rosa R. Kennedy, she spent most of her life in Dickenson county. She was an avid reader and brilliant scholar. 

Rita Kennedy Sutton

By Mrs. Bonnie S. Ball

Rita Elizabeth (Kennedy) Sutton was born March 13, 1906 in the community of Imboden, near Appalachia, Virginia.  Later, her name was changed to Rita Jo, for a favorite character in “Little Women.”

The daughter of Benjamin F. and Rosa R. Kennedy, she spent most of her life in Dickenson county.  She was an avid reader and brilliant scholar.  The family moved to Clintwood where she attended high school.

At age 17 she entered Martha Washington College, and at age 19 she returned to Dickenson County, where she taught English, French, and History in the junior high school near Fremont and McClure.

On September 2, 1928 she was married to John I. Sutton, a banker from Abingdon.  She later attended William and Mary College, and moved to Abingdon.  The following Spring they moved to Clintwood, where her husband opened the first Piggly Wiggly store.

Their daughter, Eliza Rose (Mrs. Kent Rigg), was born in 1929.  At the age of 24, Rita Kennedy Sutton was suddenly stricken by polio, after which she went to an Abingdon hospital for six months.  Eventually a vaccine was developed that cleared the infection.  After two months she went to Warm Springs, Georgia for treatment periodically.

In August , 1932 the Kennedy family moved to Wise.  Although Rita’s body grew weaker, her will grew stronger,”  She later became Advertising Manager for the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, and became interested in genealogy, having published “Early Osbornes & Alleys,” “Early Carters in Scott Cunty, Va.”, and “Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc.: A Backward Glance.”

Quotation from a biographical sketch by Catherine C. Riggs, In The Coalfield Progress.

Mrs. Sutton was a founding member of the Wise Study Club, a woman’s group that remains true to its early motto, “Tis the mind that makes the body rich.”  Mrs. Sutton was an honorary life member of the Southwest Virginia Historical Society.

According to her granddaughter, Catherine C. Riggs, she became a published author at the age of 71.  She taught herself to type at 67.  In 57 years she was unable to walk, but never complained.  She passed away on November 20, 1987.

What a marvelous woman!

From: Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia – Publication No. 22 – 1

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