Bonded by blindness and song: These best friends were much more than their football rivalry

A friendship that started at the Overbrook School for the Blind blossomed into beautiful harmony

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Best friends since childhood, John Sutton and Agnes Dutill were inseparable for decades, a relationship forged as much by their shared experience of blindness as their love of sports and music.

Sutton, who died in October 2021, was memorialized last week at the Overbrook School for the Blind, where he and Dutill lived and met as kids in the 1970s.

"I miss him so much," Dutill said at the celebration of life before dozens of Sutton’s other friends and family. "We just did everything together."

Dutill's son, Madeanna Wyche, described his mother and Sutton — his godfather — as tight-knit.

"Always singing, going out to eat," Wyche said. "He talked to her daily. She talked to him daily."

Love of sports and song animated their relationship, and Sutton’s devotion to both was evident at the gathering.

A display at a memorial celebration of the life of Philadelphia sports superfan John Sutton.
A display at a memorial celebration of the life of Philadelphia sports superfan John Sutton. Photo credit Dave Uram/KYW Newsradio

A table draped in green included an Eagles jacket, Super Bowl LII championship t-shirt, as well as a Birds hat, green football, mini-basketball hoop, and a sign that read "Welcome To Our Home" with the Eagles logo.

There was also a Phillies 2008 World Series Champions hat and powder blue T-shirt jersey. A Saint Joseph's Hawks hat was there too, with a portable radio that was his best access to the games.

Throughout the ceremony, a room of about 40 people — most of whom were visually impaired — sang, laughed, cried, and reminisced.


A friendly rivalry

Dutill, 59, of University City and Sutton — who lived in West Philadelphia —  met when they were 8 and 10 years old respectively.

Dutill said they shared similar, competitive personalities.

"It was always me against him,” said Dutill.

Their friendship was clearly a close rivalry and bond. Sutton was a wrestler, baseball player and participated in track and field. Dutill — who was also into track and field, baseball and swimming — was also a cheerleader, and she says Sutton could always hear her voice cheering out from everybody.

It was through their voices that singing and sports became two major things that defined them.

Dutill and Sutton shared a deep love for the Phillies.

A display table at a celebration of life for John Sutton.
A display table at a celebration of life for John Sutton. Photo credit Dave Uram/KYW Newsradio

"And just hearing the way that he would get into the game, like he would start yelling at his radio," Dutill described. "'Oh, come on. Come on now, what are you doing that for?' And, 'Oh come on, keep going.' Like he was talking to the people directly. And just to see his excitement was exciting for me."

But while Sutton was a fan of the Eagles, Dutill loves the Steelers — which fed into their friendly rivalry.

"Every time I would say, 'Oh your Eagles lost,' [John would say,] 'Oh girl, don't worry about my Eagles. You worry about your team.'"

Dutill said they didn't fight much about it, but remembers one year when Sutton's Eagles beat her Steelers, "and I never heard the end of it." Wyche said his mother and godfather spoke about the teams constantly.

Helen O'Hannon, a traveling caregiver for Dutill and Sutton, called it cute to watch, and thought it allowed for a better relationship.

"It means we care about each other," O'Hannon said of the importance of having a rivalry like that. "Above everything, we care about each other. I care that you are a Steelers fan and you care that I'm an Eagles fan, but we're rivals."

O’Hannon said she’ll remember Sutton as a mentor.

“When you have sight, you don’t realize the advantage that you have until you meet someone without sight, and you see how they are just like you,” O’Hannon said. “They care about the same things you care about. They do the same things you do. They just do it differently.”

Harmony echoing throughout Suburban Station

Dutill and Sutton loved to compete with each other, and their friendly rivalry and companionship were music to people's ears — literally.

For decades, Sutton and Dutill were street musicians, spending many morning rushes in Suburban Station — entertaining people on their way to work, which included being part of the group "Sound of Harmony,"

What made them such a great duet?

"Competing," Dutill said, "to see who could go up on the higher notes and just the harmony, the harmonizing … we connected so well together. We just wanted to always sound good. We enjoyed the commuters. The commuters were very great to us, friendly, and it just was a great experience."

Click here to hear some of Agnes and John's harmonizing. (Courtesy David Block.)

What made them such a wonderful connection?

"I think because we loved each other and that's what kept up going was our love for one another."

"They're yin and yang," O'Hannon said. "They knew each other so well. If John would try to trick Agnes with a different note or something like that, Agnes would pick right up on it, and he would do the same thing. They just knew each other that good, hand in hand. Everybody loved their singing."

They sang together in public up until 2020 when the pandemic started.

Sutton was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015 before passing away last year at 60.

This will be the first full football season Dutill doesn't get to experience in-person with Sutton. She acknowledged it will be difficult, but added she will stay strong.

"It was rough near the end," Dutill said at the celebration service. "And I was with him when he passed in his home, so I'll miss him greatly."


'A party ain't nothing without John Sutton'

Many in the crowd that day echoed Dutill’s love for her friend, relying on their sense of hearing to paint the picture of the moment.

Without visual cues for who would speak, the crowd took turns memorializing Sutton, emphasizing his competitiveness and selflessness.

"John's first love was music and his second love was food," said Vivian Williams, a member of "The Nevilaires.” Sutton had been a member of that choir whose members sang at his memorial.

The remark about food drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Enoch Williams, Vivian's husband, said Sutton had a reputation as a fierce defender of his friends, not somebody you wanted to mess with.

"There was talk in the blind community about a man who was strong," Enoch said with emphasis in his voice, "and nobody was going to challenge that."

When Enoch was saying a prayer about his friend, Dutill's guide dog Bailey was crying.

David Block, a filmmaker who is legally blind, shared a video of Sutton singing God Bless America.

The song played through Block's phone drew a loud applause from the room.

Rod Powell said a prayer near the end of the ceremony, in part, thanking God for "the life of John Sutton. A life well lived … we just thank you for the love and respect that John had for us and that we had for him."

After the service, O'Hannon and her husband Kevin — wearing Eagles shirts — served lunch to everyone in attendance with Sutton's favorite food, hot dogs. There were also door prizes that included some of Sutton's favorite items.

"We're going to party like John would want us to," Dutill said.

Vivian Williams jumped in. "What do we say, Agnes? A party ain't nothing without John Sutton."

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Madeanna Wyche's name was misspelled.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Shannon O'Malley