Joan Riffey Sutton Houston, 85, was called Home by her Maker on Saturday, March 5, 2016, at Carolina Village Medical Center.
She was born in Louisville, KY, the daughter of John Leslie Riffey and Prudence Amos Riffey. She was a graduate of Baylor University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After seminary, Joan moved to Hendersonville where her husband, John Boyd Sutton, was minister of music at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, for three years, before they were both appointed as music missionaries to Brazil, South America. In 1960, she and Boyd began the four-year music course at the Baptist Seminary in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she taught music theory, counterpoint, harmony, form and analysis, composition, hymnology, translating, arranging, violin, piano, and organ. In 1983, the Suttons moved to Porto Alegre, where they continued their work in music. During that time, Joan also served as general coordinator for a new hymnal in Portuguese, the Hinário para o Culto Cristão.
Having grown up as a missionary child in Brazil, Joan dedicated her life to the South American country. She and her husband Boyd served there from 1959 to 1993, significant figures in Brazilian music missionary work and instrumental in collecting and organizing Brazilian hymnody. Joan’s translations of hymns, solos, anthems, and major choral masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’ German Requiem, Dubois’ Seven Last Words of Christ, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, to name a few, are standards of the vernacular performance across Portuguese-speaking denominations. A recent Brazilian-born graduate of the Baylor School of Music said about the Suttons, “Much of my ministerial vision today was shaped after readings and performances of Mr. and Mrs. Sutton’s work.”
In 2010, Joan donated her personal archive of compositions, translations, arrangements, and collections to the Center for Christian Music Studies of the Baylor University Libraries. Her gift launched Baylor’s Music in Missions Collection in the Crouch Fine Arts Library, and serves as its cornerstone. The Sutton archives include manuscripts, drafts, publications, accompanying documentation and notes, and materials from a course that Joan taught at the Baptist Seminary in Rio de Janeiro on translating and musical arranging, as well as many choral anthems and cantatas.
Wherever she lived, during her career and beyond, Joan was involved in choral music, at church and in the community. The Suttons retired to Hendersonville in November 1992. Since April 2001 they were residents of Carolina Village.
She is survived by her husband of two and a half years, Reagan (Rick) Houston; a son, USN Commander (retired) John Edwin (JES) Sutton and his wife, Rosie, of Elizabethton, TN; two daughters, Laura Sutton Floyd and her husband, Dr. Samuel Russell Floyd, III, of Hilton Head Island, SC, and Cecilia Sutton England and her husband, Rod, of Landrum, SC; one step-daughter, Lynn Houston Baskett and her husband, Jason, of Orinda, CA; five grandchildren, Leslie Sutton Lewis, Lora Lynn Sutton, John Ryan Sutton, Matthew William Sutton, and Samantha LeeAnne Floyd; ten great-grandchildren, Alexis and Marcus Allison; Shelby, Peyton, and Annalynn Lewis; Madison, James, and William McSwain; and Ava and Gabriella Sutton; two step-granddaughters, Heather Baskett and Holly Baskett and her partner, Carrick Cheevers; and one step-great-grandchild, Jameson Cheevers; cousins, nieces, and nephews and their families, and a host of Brazilian “children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.” She was preceded in death by her husband of one month, Stanley Johnson of Taneyville, MO, and her husband of 53 years, John Boyd Sutton, of Bath County, VA.
Until 2014, Joan was an active member of the Joy Singers, the Carolina Village Chorale, and the Hendersonville Chorale. She was active in Interfaith Ministries and served on the chaplaincy board of Pardee Hospital. Her life was an example of the true ministry of encouragement. She touched the lives of her family, her students, and her friends in such a way that her influence lives on through them. To God be the glory!
A service of thanksgiving will be held at Providence Baptist Church, Hendersonville, at 2 p.m. Friday, March 11, officiated by the Rev. Julie Merritt Lee (pastor). A second memorial service will be held in the Village Hall of Carolina Village, 600 Carolina Village Road, Hendersonville, at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12, led by the Rev. Don Taws, chaplain of Carolina Village.
The family would like to express their gratitude to the dedicated and caring staff of the Medical Center of Carolina Village and Four Seasons Hospice.
Memorials may be made to Providence Baptist Church, P.O. Box 6476, Hendersonville, NC, 28793; to The Carolina Village Endowment Fund, 600 Carolina Village Road, Hendersonville, NC, 29792; to Four Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, 571 South Allen Road, Flat Rock, NC, 28731; or to the Library Dean’s Excellence Fund (used to help process and preserve the collection so graciously donated to the libraries) of Baylor University, One Bear Place #97050, Waco, TX 76798-7050.