For the past decade Debbie Sutton, executive director for the has walked through the front doors of the Peachtree Corners Y, greeting everyone with a smile. But Monday was the last time she would open those glass doors and stride past the front desk. The Y's leader was officially retiring.
Sutton, announced earlier this month that she would be taking early retirement to care for her 93-year-old mother who lives in Charleston, SC and is in poor health. To say this was a tramatic day for Sutton, who at 58, has hardly reached retirement age, would be an understatement.
"I'm going to miss everyone," Sutton said as her eyes welled up with tears. "I look at the staff and the board as friends -- so I'm going to miss my friends. It's hard to let go."
And for her staff of nine full-time employees (along with over 130 who work part time or seasonally) who have come to know their boss the day was just as eventful.
"It took our breath away when she told us she was retiring," said Kathi Jones, Sutton's administrative assistant for the past eight years.
"Debbie is my boss but she's also a dear friend and mentor. She's been an inspiration to me," said Jones.
Sutton joined the YMCA 32 years ago and has lead her team with a gentle, guiding hand and one that many do not want to let go.
"It's been an incredible experience," said Di Lembo, who handles the Y's office manager and HR duties. Lembo reitereated Jones sentiment that she felt she was losing her best friend. "She's been my mentor," Lembo added simply deciding not to add any more on this emotional day.
Jones said it is her leadership qualities that has been such an influence. "She ipotimizes the core values of the Y, caring, responsibility, respect and honesty. I like the way she treats people, she wants you to succeed."
Sutton has seen the local Y, which opened in 1997, expand from a 30,000 square-foot facility to its current 62,000 facility since taking over the executive director duties in 2001. The neighborhood facility added a senior center and additional exercise space. And along with that expansion, the center's number of programs have increased as well.
In addition to the programs at the Y, Sutton has helped spearhead a youth outreach program working with the Norcross city leaders to set up the Norcross Initiative two and a half years ago as a YMCA summer youth program.
A Clemson graduate, Sutton received a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and parks. While there she competed on the swim team and established the school's first womens swim team. She began working for the YMCA shortly after graduation after a stint working with troubled youth at a group home for delinquent boys.
She had also worked for the YMCA while attending high school in South Carolina before heading off to attend Clemson after graduation. "I guess the Y was in my blood," she remembered with a smile.
Her first full time duties at the Y was as aquatics director for the South DeKalb YMCA. She would later go on to work at the YMCA's Bransby outdoor camp for kid located in Atlanta.
It was at Bransby where she learned to ride horses and today owns three which she keeps on her Canton property that she shares with her husband, Pete, an architect. With her full-time career behind her, Sutton says she'd like to begin entering competitions in endurance riding with Ben, her five-year-old saddlebread horse.
But first she will concentrate on taking care of her mother. "I thought it out over the summer," said Sutton on her decision to leave the Y. "Mom and I are pretty close, that will be my mission for awhile.
"I know it's the right thing to do, it's a different chapter in my life," said Sutton softly.
Curtis Winston, the Y's assistant executive director, will fill in until a permanent replacement has been named.