Samuel Water Surratt Jr. left his mark on Zephyrhills
By B.C. Manion
When people talk about Samuel Walter Surratt Jr., they recall a man who was a devoted civic leader, an involved father and a generally nice guy to be around.
For 21 years, you could find Sam at Zephyrhills City Hall on Monday nights, handling the duties of a city councilman. He devoted the same number of years to helping put out fires as a member of the city’s volunteer fire squad.
He was so well respected that he was named as grand marshal of the Zephyrhills’ Founder’s Day Parade three times. Most notably, he was one of 10 grand marshals selected for the Founder’s Day Parade that celebrated the East Pasco County community’s 100th birthday.
He died on Aug. 14 at age 92 after battling pneumonia, Parkinson’s and heart disease. Hundreds of people turned out on Aug. 18 for his funeral at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Zephyrhills.
Surratt is survived by his wife, Raybelle, and their son, Sam Surratt III. He was preceded in death by the couple’s daughter, Judith Ireland. Other survivors include his son’s wife, Linda, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Raybelle, his wife of 71 years, recalled her husband’s kindness and generosity. She said he thrived on helping others and knew how to have a good time.
“He was very outgoing. He enjoyed life. He was a fun person to live with and be around,” said Raybelle, who met her husband while she was selling tickets at the Crescent movie theater in Dade City, where they both lived.
“Other than his two years in the service, we were never separated,” Raybelle said. He served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, using his welding skills to repair ships in Rouen, France.
After returning from World War II, he ran his own business, Surratt Iron & Welding Works, in downtown Dade City, across from the historic courthouse, Raybelle said.
Sam Surratt III, recalls visiting his dad’s business.
“What was so neat about the shop — it was a gathering place for politicians. It was wonderful,” he said. People interested in running for office would drop by to test the waters, he said. “That was the local chat shop.”
He shared many happy times with his dad.
“Years ago, in Zephyrhills, we would put a team together and play together in somebody’s pasture,” he said.
His dad would pile all of the kids in the back of a pickup and drive them to one of the fields. Sam and other fathers would use barrels covered with feed sacks to roll across the field, picking up sandspurs so they wouldn’t stick to the kids’ feet.
“We played bare-footed for cryin’ out loud,” he said. “We would have bases (made) out of cow pies.
“We used to hunt at the Green Swamp,” he added. They made it a point to be there on the opening day of hunting season. “I always missed that first day of school.”
Raybelle recalled that her husband was a big band booster supporting both of their kids who played instruments. He pitched in at cookouts to help raise money.
Raybelle also recounted her husband’s passion for gardening, especially for growing orchids. He enjoyed perfecting the beautiful blooms and sharing them with others, she said.
When he retired from his welding business, Sam sold the building to a law firm and used some of the proceeds to explore the world with Raybelle.
“We had a lot of nice trips together,” said Raybelle, who retired after working for years for Pasco County Schools in Zephyrhills and then for the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Dade City.
Places they visited included Switzerland, France, Italy, Africa, Spain and South America.
The two often traveled with two other couples, Jean McClain Murphy and her husband, Pat, and Christine and H.C. Douglas.
Murphy said the couples got along famously and had a fantastic time on the trips.
“Sam was always the same. He had a wonderful personality. He was always happy.”
When the couples were in their 20s and 30s, they would routinely get together with several other couples, Murphy recalled. They weren’t wealthy, but they had fun.
“We were in each other’s homes and our children were there, and Sam was always in the middle of it,” Murphy said.
He enjoyed socializing, Raybelle said, but he also got tremendous pleasure from being of service to others.
Besides being a council member and a volunteer firefighter, he was also involved with the First United Methodist Church, served on the Zephyr Haven Nursing Home Board and was a member of the Zephyrhills V.F.W. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge for more than 50 years and was an honorary member of the Zephyrhills Garden Club.
He received the Distinguished Citizenship Award in Governmental Affairs in 1975.
“He believed in giving back,” Raybelle said. “He didn’t do things for any recognition. He just enjoyed doing them. He was a humble man.”
He also got a big kick from gathering with a group of men at Scratch, a coffee club where members enjoy good-natured ribbing and talking politics, she said.
Sam’s son said if there is anything people remember about his father, he hopes it is this: “He was so passionate about this community and the people who lived here. He was always approachable. He would talk to anyone. He was never too busy to help people out of a problem.”