Tennessee hotel leaves room empty during auto event to honor couple who died

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — A Tennessee hotel paid tribute to a couple who frequented the business annually during an automotive event, leaving their room unbooked and empty after learning of the couple’s death.

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The Valley Forge Inn in Pigeon Forge left Room 101 empty this year for the annual Rod Run, a three-day event for car enthusiasts that began Thursday, WATE-TV reported. The room was occupied every year for more than two decades by James Surratt and his wife, Carol Surratt, of Rydal, Georgia, the television station reported.

“Oh yes, they were huge Rod Run fans,” Brooke Wilson, James Surratt’s daughter, told WATE, adding that her father and stepmother always stayed in Room 101. “It was always planned. Everybody knew every spring in April and every fall in September, that that’s where they would be.”

However, Carol Surratt, 54, died on Aug. 23, according to her obituary. James Surratt, 69, died two days later, according to his obituary.

Wilson said her father and stepmother enjoyed going to the Rod Run not just for the cars but also for the friendships they had forged through the years.

“They just loved to go and see their friends that they have built; you know, friendships with people from all over,” Wilson told WATE.

That included the owners and staff at Valley Forge Inn.

Joe Cole, the owner of Valley Forge Inn, said he decided to leave Room 101 empty to honor his longtime guests.

“They were both Christians. They were good people,” Cole told WATE. “Whenever we talked, we would talk about our church.”

Wilson called the hotel to cancel the reservations for their room and two others they had reserved. Cole refunded the couple’s money and also left the room empty as a silent tribute, the television station reported.

The gesture moved Wilson.

“They could have made a lot of money this weekend, you know, on that room,” Wilson told WATE. “And they chose to leave that room empty in their memory, you know that says a lot about them.”

Cole said it was the least he could do for his friends.

“We thought that we could at least block these rooms that were always associated with them and we thought it would be a neat way for us to remember them,” Cole told WATE.