Ex-Navy officer and former restaurant boss Suttie Economy served on the USS English on the Pacific Front during the war. Since retiring, he has garnered a loveable reputation for himself by handing out packets of the fruit-flavored gum to figureheads of his community.
Economy has been hospitalized with health issues since 2019, first at the VA Medical Center in Salem and then at the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Roanoke, Virginia. In consideration of his failing health, Economy called a longtime friend, Sammy Oakey of Oakey’s Funeral Service and Crematory, and asked for a favor, which included painting his casket to resemble a pack of his favorite gum.
“For decades, Suttie has been known as the guy who takes packs of Juicy Fruit to restaurants, doctors’ offices, funeral homes, firehouses, etcetera, and gives them out to everyone he sees,” Oakey explained to WDBJ-7. “He has probably purchased tens of thousands of packs of the gum over the years.”
Oakey immediately agreed to help his friend, considering two options for Economy’s bespoke design; either the casket in its entirety would be painted as a pack of Juicy Fruit or the logo would be printed on a pall and laid over the casket. However, Oakey was careful to clarify that the casket will not be painted until Economy passes away.
The veteran’s whimsical request, however, was met with a legal obstacle as Mars Wrigley, the manufacturer of Juicy Fruit gum, denied permission for Oakey to render their trademark logo on a casket. Oakey then took to social media.
“For over fifty years, this gentleman has been known in our region for his habit of taking packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum wherever he goes and giving them to anyone he comes into contact with,” the funeral director posted on Aug. 27. “This kindness has endeared him to many citizens in the Roanoke Valley.”
“While having difficulty breathing, this veteran is in excellent mental health and knows exactly what he is saying,” Oakey continued. “Since we are in the profession of carrying out requests, we assured him that we would make this effort.”
However, when the conglomerate that owns the trademark resisted and the sick veteran got to know about it, he felt “crushed” by the company that he had “faithfully patronized for decades.”
The community at Roanoke then responded. A helpful local gave Oakey the email address of the president of Mars Wrigley, and Oakey drafted a letter to plead the veteran’s case.
The president replied just days later, conceding to an exception for the 94-year-old veteran. The company even promised to donate some boxes of Juicy Fruit gum for Economy’s funeral visitation, Oakey told WDBJ-7, although the funeral director expressed hope that the mournful day “will be a long time off.”
On Sept. 4, Oakey took to Twitter with an update. “A delivery truck just unloaded boxes containing 250 packs of Juicy Fruit gum for the family,” he wrote. “And the vet is doing better!”
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