Sue and Tom Elliott—who have been married 56 years—laugh as they finish each other’s sentences and each prods the other to tell life stories in which love of family takes center stage and Plymouth Harbor provides a constant backdrop spanning three generations.
It was Tom’s grandparents, Cary Rex and Hazel May “Eldean”—she a former second grade teacher and he retired from the Post Office—who first discovered Sarasota, moving into Plymouth Harbor from Lima, Ohio, in 1966, shortly after Plymouth Harbor’s completion. Tom has vivid memories of visiting Plymouth Harbor as a youth and being denied pie a la mode because it was considered TWO desserts!
Because Tom’s parents, Mary Virginia and Paul, visited his grandparents regularly, they purchased a part-time home at Sarasota Harbor West, before finally moving into Plymouth Harbor full time themselves; Paul lived at Plymouth Harbor for the next five years, until his death at 94, and Mary Virginia for the next twenty years, until her death at 96.
Tom doesn’t need any prodding to describe the courtship of his parents, who met in 1928, when his father Paul was a border in his grandparents’ Lima, Ohio, home. Mary Virginia, then 13, was “determined” that Paul would be her husband…someday. Despite family doubts and not a little opposition, their 1933 marriage would last more than five decades. Paul had an eclectic career, with stints at the WPA, managing construction work at the Toledo Zoo, and the Hickok Oil Corporation, before retiring from the Leonard Refineries in Alma, Michigan. Yet after that they owned and ran Elliott Gas & Oil in Gladwin, MI for ten years before retiring again. Only then did they move on to Florida.
The Story of Sue and Tom
Sue met Tom when he was 17 and she was 15; Tom was the president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship where a friend introduced them. As Sue recalls it, she needed a date for a dance and Tom happened to be handy. They hit it off and have been together ever since, only, as Sue says, “separated by circumstances occasionally.”
Sue graduated with honors from the University of Toledo with a degree as a medical technologist. Tom also attended the University of Toledo and then graduated from Alma College with a degree in Biology. Service in the Army and deployment to Schweinfurt, West Germany interrupted Tom’s education. During those three years of service, Tom says that he and Sue tried to see every castle and visit every museum in the area.
Returning to the States, Tom’s Master’s thesis reflected his interest in what he calls “maintainability”: the intersection between the manufacture of easy-to-maintain equipment and the proper training of equipment users in the maintenance of that equipment. Tom’s fascination with “maintainability” led to a position with newly organized Applied Science Associates (“The Problem Solvers”), where, he says he didn’t just “look forward” to going to work every day—he loved going to work; when he retired as CEO, Applied Science Associates had more than 150 employees and customers on three continents.
Sue and Tom lived in Butler, Pennsylvania, during this time, raising son Daniel and daughter Elizabeth. In addition to their busy careers and a happy family life, both found time for hobbies and activities in their community. An experienced private pilot, Tom taught management at the community college and served as the president of the Butler County Library board and on the board of the Butler City Library. Sue was a member of the Butler Symphony Board, active with the American Association of University Women, and a volunteer on a call-in suicide helpline. Tom smilingly describes Sue as a “semi-famous” quilter: after one of her quilts was featured in a quilting book, the quilt was displayed at Dollywood.
Sue and Tom are enthusiastic cooks and have grown orchids competitively. An early love of sailing led them to competitive sailboat racing, though nowadays, as Tom admits, they prefer more leisurely sailboat cruising.
Regular visits to Plymouth Harbor during their 50-plus-year marriage have given Tom and Sue an overview of both continuity and change. Even though they have witnessed three complete renovations of the dining room, Tom insists that the “warm and caring tone” of Plymouth Harbor, has remained constant. He believes that this consistent tone is due to the long-term relationship between staff and residents: “They enjoy each other’s company.” Tom also credits the close knit residential community itself, where, as he puts it, “People look out for each other.”
“The people here are so interesting,” adds Sue. “Everyone has a depth of character; there’s such a lot of culture here.”
These are only some of the many reasons they are excited about their soon-to-be new home at Plymouth Harbor. Tom and Sue expect to move into Plymouth Harbor after they complete the sale of their home in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, sometime this coming winter.
Tom likes to tell the story of how his mother would “drag” visitors on tours of local retirement communities and would, upon returning to Plymouth Harbor, declare to Harry, et al with satisfied assurance that “this is the very best there is.”
While the story of the Elliott family’s powerful connection with Plymouth Harbor may be a bit unusual, spanning as it does three generations, it is just another lovely example of how Plymouth Harbor attracts active, go-getters to the Sarasota community—attracts them and keeps them.
It’s safe to say that Plymouth Harbor will continue to provide families—including the Elliott family—with pie a la mode for generations to come. “We’ve visited for so many years that people thought we lived here!” says Sue. “Now our children and our children’s children will visit us.”