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The Sudduth family has always made history on Vashon Island. Not long after arriving there in 1920, P. Monroe Smock founded the Vashon Island News Record, which his daughter, Agnes, took over eight years later and ran until 1942.
Last December, the family made a different, sadder sort of history when Thomas Sudduth — Agnes’ grandson — became the first islander to die from COVID-19.
Sudduth died at the Veterans’ Administration Puget Sound Medical Center on Dec. 7 from what his family confirmed was acute respiratory distress syndrome with pneumonia, and COVID-19 as a contributing factor. He was 64.
In an effort “to help the people of Vashon grasp the seriousness of the disease,” Sudduth’s family made his cause of death known to the community through the Facebook page of emergency response group VashonBePrepared.org, as well as that of his brother, Mike Sudduth.
“We want everyone on Vashon to know about Tom’s death because everyone needs to understand how dangerous this invisible enemy really is,” Mike Sudduth wrote. “He was just one of hundreds of thousands who have died from this awful plague.
“There’s a light now appearing at the end of the tunnel with the authorization of new vaccines,” he continued. “But we’re still months away from the majority of the population receiving that shot in the arm. In the meantime, we can’t let our guards down in protecting each other with masks, distancing and good hygiene.
“In memory of Tom and all the others who died in this awful war, let’s all do our part.”
Mike Sudduth also quoted a column written by his grandmother for the News Record after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. She urged islanders to stay home and avoid public gatherings — something people have been doing for months.
“There are still lots of good books to read,” Agnes Smock wrote. “There is popcorn to pop. Candy can be made, even if there is a blackout. We can gather about the piano and sing some of the songs we’ve been hearing over the radio. Morale? Well, it functions just as well in a family as it does in the army, and it’s something you can’t go to the store and buy by the quart or yard. There are still tried and true methods for developing it, and mothers and fathers are particularly adapted to that job.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” she continued. “And that goes for the peace and harmony of a community in trying times like this.”
The youngest of six children, Thomas Sudduth served in the U.S. Army for eight years, then worked as a machinist and as a shipfitter at Todd’s Shipyard in Seattle. He stopped working after a back injury, took a mail-order course in locksmithing, and became quite the tinkerer.
“ … Locks, cars, electronics, motors,” Michael Sudduth remembered. “Anything mechanical needing repair rather than putting it in the landfill.”
Thomas Sudduth saw himself as an inventor, “mostly involving improvements to locks,” his brother said.
So it seemed appropriate that, in lieu of gifts, the family asked that donations be made toward the Vashon Makerspace Fix-It Cafe, a nonprofit that loans tools and teaches repairs to islanders. Donations can be made through the Vashon Tool Library.
Sudduth was preceded in death by his brothers, William Sudduth and George (Pete) Sudduth, Jr., and his parents.
He is survived by his brothers Michael and David, and his sister Robin.