ROANOKE, VA. – How much do you love your favorite candy?
Do you love it so much you’d want to be buried with it, or better yet, in it?
That’s the case for one Roanoke man who’s known to share Wrigley’s Gum with everyone he meets.
John Economy speaks fondly of his brother, Suttie Economy, whenever he gets the chance. John is 81, Suttie is 94, and they share a brotherly love spanning across the country.
John has been in Roanoke for a few months to be by Suttie’s side as his health declines.
“Your parts wear out eventually,” John said of his brother. “Your eyes, your nose, your ears, your legs -- they just don’t stay the same.”
The only thing Suttie probably loves more than other veterans is Wrigley’s Gum, and he gives it to most of the people he has met over the past 40 years. His affinity comes from eating the gum with ration packs on the front lines, and he decided he wants to go to the grave with it, too.
Suttie asked Sammy Oakey at Oakey’s Funeral Home to have his casket painted like the iconic gum box.
“I told him I would do everything I could to make that happen," Oakley said. “I immediately called and they immediately said no.”
Oakey said the funeral home doesn’t refer to requests like these as “odd." Instead, they call it “personalization,” and he doesn’t like to bear bad news.
“I had to go back and tell the veteran that -- and he was just crushed, because he’d bought tens of thousands of packs of gum over the past forty or fifty years,” Oakey said.
But he didn’t give up. Instead, he shared the story on Facebook, asking people to write, tweet, call and text Wrigley’s. And before he knew it, hundreds of packs of gum were on their way to Roanoke, and he had good news to share.
“(The company) began reversing position,” Oakey said. “I had an email from the president of Wrigley Mars, saying that they’re willing to do whatever the family wanted to do.”
The family has now shifted from painting the casket to draping it in a cloth with the logo. The Economys are happy this wish was granted, as unique as it is.
“I think it’s right for them to do it," John Economy said. “It’s good publicity for them. I don’t know if that’s why he did it, but needless to say, this is what he’s done all this time.”
And the love continues for now, as Suttie’s dying wish turned out to be a bit pre-mature.
Suttie’s family said his health is improving, and that’s a good thing, because they need someone to give away all the gum.