Community gathers for one last toast for Tom Sutherland

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With the inspiring words and sweet sounds of Scotland gently wafting through the room, the CSU and Fort Collins communities on Saturday bid a final farewell to their beloved hero, Tom Sutherland.

More than 600 people attended the hour-long memorial service at the Lory Student Center in a celebration that undoubtedly would have made Sutherland, the former CSU professor of animal sciences and local philanthropist, flash one of his familiar ear-to-ear grins. There were no formal speeches and very few tears – just poetry by Scotland’s favorite son, Robert Burns, bagpipes, fiddles and Scottish-themed choral music.

A Scottish celebration

“Let this be a celebration of not just Tom’s life, but of all life,” said Tom’s wife, Jean, during brief opening remarks.

And it was exactly that. Following several minutes of gentle Scottish folk tunes on the celeste (upright keyboard instrument) by Bobby Mielke, Karl Brown, Sutherland’s “Duty Piper,” marched in playing the hauntingly beautiful “Scotland the Brave.” Brown, the founder of the group now known as the Northern Colorado Caledonia Pipe Band, had played at remembrance services all six years Sutherland was in captivity in Beirut, Lebanon, and every time Sutherland requested his pipes following his release in 1991.

Brown was followed by the Larimer Chorale Chamber Chorus, which sang three Scottish-themed songs – two of them based on two of Burns’ poems: “A Red, Red Rose” and “Highland Mary.”

Farewell, Tom

To watch a video of the complete, hour-long celebration, click here.

The magic of Robert Burns

Sutherland, who was given a book of Burns’ poetry at age 16 and carried it throughout his life, cherished the work of Scotland’s greatest poet. The poems sustained him during the darkest hours of his six-plus years in captivity, and he celebrated Burns’ birthday every year once free.

It was at one of those annual celebrations that he heard Kelly Davis, a Wyoming resident of Scottish descent, read Burns’ works with great enthusiasm. Davis was asked to read several poems at the memorial service, including “To a Louse” and “To a Mouse” – two of Burns’ most familiar and beloved creations – closing his presentation with a traditional Scottish toast.

“Look at the monuments he built,” Davis said, citing Sutherland’s optimism and kindness when many people would have been embittered after being held hostage for more than 2,000 days.

Home-Grown, a family ensemble, played several Scottish fiddle songs before leaving the stage to Jean.

Our favorite son

Her husband’s time in captivity was only mentioned occasionally during the celebration as the family wanted the event to focus on the final 25 years of his life, when his generosity, wisdom and remarkably positive outlook on life were seemingly always on display for those lucky enough to know him or be impacted by him.

Fittingly, she invited all present to toast Tom and enjoy some Scottish food – even some haggis imported for the occasion. Brown and the pipers closed the program, playing a number of tunes in the Sutherland Sculpture Garden outside the student center as the toasts to Fort Collins’ favorite son continued.

Read more about the life and times of Tom Sutherland

Tom Sutherland: Never forgotten

Tom Sutherland remembered

Patron of the arts

Sutherland in Beirut