James was so many things to so many people. He is one of the driving forces behind Open Hearts Open Arms. James came into the Ellis's life back in 2004. Wanda Ellis remembers the first time she met him. He was cooking dinner for her son and his roommates. He didn't speak to her then. He wasn't a very talkative man, especially with strangers. Over time, Wanda got to know James, and most importantly she says she knew he cared about her son. From 2004 until the day before his death, James was Robby's partner in crime, Robby was his sidekick. Wherever James went, Robby was there. They had their routine. Started out with coffee at the local Aztec gas station off Louisville Rd. in Alcoa. Next they headed to Olympia Athletic Club where they saw their friend Pam and Robby worked out. The workout led to a trip to visit their good friends Phil Eakins and Earl at the Springbrook Rec Center. By this time of the day, they would go and get lunch at a local restaurant, but then based on the advice of both their doctors they started having lunch at the Rockford House. This is where the story gets even more special than before. James Sudderth was a retiree from Alcoa Aluminum. This was his "retirement gig" but everyone agrees that James and Robby shared a special friendship that transcended the typical. They got along together. James listening to Robby talk about his favorite musician, and explaining where they were going next even though they'd follow the same routine week in and week out.
James accompanied Robby to bowling, he'd take Robby to volunteer for Keep Blount Beautiful, or they would go to a movie or volunteer at the Blount County Animal Shelter. These two friends spoke on the phone almost daily. Even when Robby went with his family on vacations to the beach, he'd always ask to call James every evening to check in. James took special interest in Robby. He visited with the family during Christmas and would bring Robby's family his homemade banana pudding. Jame's banana pudding was to die for.
James always wanted the best for Robby. He advocated for him, even at risk of losing his job. He was one fo the few staff that could redirect Robby when he became agitated. If Robby's mom got a call from James, she knew there was something wrong. James just new how to talk to him, and make him laugh.
James wasn't just Robby's worker. He was his friend and also much more than that. He was a founding member of Open Hearts Open Arms. The nonprofit organization was born from the need to find an agency that looked out for Robby and treated him fairly. James willed the house and land he owned in Rockford, TN to OHOA so that they could let Robby live out his life in his own place. James wanted to see the organization open and we just missed this goal. He left us too soon.
We will always remember James. There are so many memories of him at Rockford. His are big shoes to fill. There will never be another James in Robbie's heart. He's still processing this loss and will be for days to come. We all are. James changed so many people's lives and his memory will live on through Open Hearts Open Arms.
Lori Tucker interviews us and tells our story on Positively Tennessee June 21, 2019.