The Only Jerry We Need
Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and listen. And while we thank you for diligently learning through pages of these well-researched interviews with experts in their fields, we would like to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a little extra goodness. So pause, if you will, to take in a conversation between two unlikely, but very sweet friends.
Maxwell would likely ask that you know a few things about her—she is 7 years old, loves (vegan) sushi, is an eternal optimist, and asks if you see a yellow dog down by Gin Beach could you please return her to Maxwell’s attention? Sure thing. We asked future-president Maxwell who (of anyone in the world) she might like to interview — she chose her friend Jerry. A couple of things you might like to know about Jerry—he is 93 years old, a veteran, a doctor (so that’s Dr. Jerry to you, pal), and currently resides in Atlantic Beach, Florida, in a house he built by hand. Maxwell and Jerry are not related and met in Florida when Max was a little kid and they became friends.
Maxwell: Hi, Jerry.
Jerry: Hey, sweetheart.
Maxwell: Okay, so, I’m gonna ask you questions, and you’re gonna answer them, okay?
Jerry: Yes, darling.
Maxwell: So, um, the first thing I want to tell you is, thank you for letting me interview you. I can’t wait to put it in the magazine.
Jerry: Okay, I’m glad to do this.
Maxwell: So the first question is, what is your full name?
Jerry: My name is Jerome Alfred Suddarth.
Maxwell: Got it. That’s a very wonderful name.
Jerry: It is. It is a wonderful name, isn’t it? Okay, go ahead, sweetheart.
Maxwell: The second question is, how old are you?
Jerry: I am 93 years old.
Jerry: Or 93 years young.
Maxwell: When is your birthday?
Jerry: The 31st of January, 1927.
Maxwell: And where were you born?
Jerry: In Fountain City, Tennessee.
Maxwell: Wow. Um, where do you live now?
Jerry: I live in Atlantic Beach, Florida.
Maxwell: How did you pass time when you were a little boy?
Jerry: There were no children that lived close to me that I could play with. So I had a dog when I was about six, I guess. And I loved to run with my little dog into the woods and hide out and play.
Maxwell: That sounds very fun. What was your dog’s name?
Maxwell: That’s so cute. How were your school days?
Jerry: My school days were pretty enjoyable. In elementary school, I made fairly decent grades. I went to high school and
I sorta got disassociated with studying, and I only made average grades there. I don’t think that I really enjoyed high school like most of my student friends did. But I graduated. It turned out, I found out many years later, that I actually had a whole lotta friends and I didn’t know it.
Maxwell: Wow! That’s very interesting. What job did your parents do?
Jerry: My mother was a domestic engineer, and my father worked for Southern Bell for 47 years, I believe.
Jerry: He used to climb telephone poles until he was 55 and they made him stop.
Maxwell: Wow, that’s so cool. And my number eight-question is, I heard you had a scary event on your bike as a boy.
Jerry: Let me tell you a story that has to do with the first car I ever had.
It was a little Ford and I was one of the two or three that had a car to drive to high school. And I don’t know who, but someone disconnected my brakes, and when I started down the hill with my car—I had no brakes. And so I turned the key
off, and I got the gear shift into second gear, fortunately, and that helped to slow me down–though I was still going. As I got close to the very bottom there were buses in front of me, and as I got closer to the buses, my car kept slowing and slowing and slowing. And so finally, I came to rest against the bumper of the bus that was sitting there. It was scary. Oh goodness.
Maxwell: Wow! I would be scared, too.
Jerry: Anyway, after that, I checked my brakes before I ever started down the hill.
Maxwell: Well, I guess that is a bad luck hill.
Jerry: Yes. Oh yes, yes. My bad luck hill.
Maxwell: What invention is the best in your lifetime? You can name like three or four if you want.
Jerry: It wasn’t until I was around 6 years old that we got a radio in the house, but we had no electricity, and we had to use the radio on a car battery. So oh goodness, what’s another one?
Maxwell: So electricity for sure is one of them.
Jerry: Well, yeah, and indoor plumbing … but yes, we actually had no electricity, and we had no indoor plumbing, and we had no water in the house. And we used oil lamps for light. Oh, and the light bulb! So one of the best things that happened was to have electricity in the house and then to have a bathroom in the house.
Maxwell: Wow, that’s very cool. What is the most wonderful period of time in your lifetime, and why?
Jerry: Oh, the best period. Oh, goodness. Well, I guess the 1920s to the 2020s. And why, oh, why is that? Oh, goodness, it’s been really blessed.
That’s a very wonderful name.
Maxwell: Well, that leads us to our next question. What is the biggest difference between the year you were born and 2020?
Jerry: The biggest difference, oh goodness. Well, the internet and television. That’s a deep one to answer. I guess technology. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the word for everything that’s happened. You know, going all the way back to electricity to what’s going on today.
Maxwell: I understand you know how to text… and that’s unusual at your age. What made you want to learn all that?
Jerry: Oh [laughs] I got you, honey. Well, I guess I wanted to do it. All the young people were doing it. Even you’re doing it! I didn’t want to be left behind.
Maxwell: Okay, I understand that. How did you learn?
Jerry: Well, Maxwell, what happened is, I learned on my first phone by typing, and my finger was a little steadier then, and I think the phone was more accurate then. That’s why I started using voice-to-text now. But sometimes it seems like the phones, they don’t hear you. They always seem to put several words down that are not what you said.
Maxwell: Wow. And another question is, how old were you when you got married? Tell me about your wife.
Jerry: I was 25 years old, and we were married in Mobile, Alabama, at Dauphin Way Baptist Church on the 20th of June, 1953.
Maxwell: Wow. And what was your job?
Jerry: Oh, I was a general dentist mostly, and then I developed a very good liking for oral surgery. So I did a lot of what people don’t really care for, missing teeth and broken jaws.
Maxwell: How many children did you have?
Jerry: Five. The youngest is about 55, and the oldest is 66, I believe. 55 to 66. Five children.
Maxwell: What are some of your favorite memories with your kids? All of them or each one of them. Whatever one you want.
Jerry: Let’s see. Well, the memory with the oldest one, his name is Steve, was his obsession with reading and learning. And the second, Pam—she was very diligent, she went to work when she was 15 and held several jobs over a period of four or five years before she was married. Then, there’s Peter. He was 13 when he started a job, and he’s been working ever since. And Suzanne—I think one of her greatest accomplishments was raising her three sons. And then there’s John—John has sorta been my buddy. He’s the youngest one. And I was at a certain point in my life when I was able to spend more time with him. I was not able to spend time with the other ones like I would have wanted to.
Maxwell: Aw. What are some of the countries or places that you have visited or lived in?
Jerry: I was in Europe in 1945 and ’46, and came back, went to college, got married and lived in Tennessee and Colorado and Texas. And then to California and back to North Carolina.
Maxwell: And Okinawa?
Jerry: Oh, goodness gracious, how can I forget Okinawa? Yes, I went from Texas to Okinawa, and then to North Carolina. Goodness, I was there for three and a half years.
Maxwell: Wow, that’s a lot of countries and states and everything.
Jerry: Oh, I forgot, when we were in Okinawa, I should tell you, we went to Japan, and we went to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Maxwell: Were you in World War II?
Jerry: I was at the end of World War II. The actual fighting had stopped but as German prisoners of war started to come, so many of them were so belligerent that they had lost, and so we had to be careful about that. And so we still had a little bit of war, but it was a different kind of war.
Maxwell: Got it. And my last and final question is what advice do you have for the next generation?
Jerry: It’s to buck up and live the golden rule.
Maxwell: Please tell me the golden rule.
Jerry: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Maxwell: That is a very big rule and I agree with that.
Jerry: What I said before about the golden rule, that about covers life, huh? I just hope that more people can live up to that.
At the time of this interview Maxwell was in New York and Jerry was in Florida undergoing newly diagnosed cancer treatment. They have not seen each other since COVID started.