In memory: Jean Murray Sutherland

“The air is pure, the sky is blue, no clouds are to be seen,
And far below the waters run, through pastures wide and green.
The freedom here is boundless, so set your wings on high,
And boldly turn into the wind, it’s now your time to fly.”

~ Kit Sutherland

Jean Sutherland died early Friday morning, Jan. 13, at home and surrounded by family.

Jean Sutherland portrait

Jean was born in 1934 to William Gordon Murray and Mildred (Peg) Furniss Murray in Ames, Iowa. From her father, a noted academic agricultural economist, she inherited a life-long love of education and teaching. As the daughter of a feisty and adventurous woman who had taken flying lessons as a young woman, Jean developed a passion for taking on new challenges, an attitude that carried through to the end of her life.

In 1955, Jean Murray had her heart captured by a young Scotsman, Thomas Sutherland, who had come to Iowa to obtain his Ph.D. degree in animal breeding. They married in 1956, after her graduation from Iowa State University, and then came to Fort Collins for Tom to take up a position in Animal Science at Colorado State University. Jean had already been entranced with the beauty and grandeur of the mountains, having visited often in summers with family and friends to hike around Rocky Mountain National Park, including a trip to the summit of Long’s Peak as a teenager. Jean and Tom built a life in Fort Collins and at Tahosa Pines, a cabin in the mountains, raising three daughters and making innumerable life-long friendships.

Tom’s career as an educator opened many opportunities for travel, and Jean eagerly embraced the challenges of raising her young daughters in foreign countries during a 1966-1967 sabbatical year spent in Jouy-en-Josas, France, and a two-year period in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1976-1978. She enthusiastically explored the culture of her new homes and relished the opportunities to travel extensively throughout Europe and Africa.

Jean leapt at the chance to take on new educational challenges as her children left home. She obtained her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in English literature at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She learned Latin and Greek on her path to writing her dissertation on the influences of the work of the Greek philosopher Seneca on Shakespeare’s tragedies. She taught English at Colorado State University and in the Alternative Learning Center in Fort Collins, before taking on what would prove to be the greatest challenge of her life in 1983.

Tom accepted the post of Dean of Agricultural and Food Sciences of the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon, and joined the faculty in 1983 after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when there was hope of peace finally and a chance for the university to flourish again. Unfortunately, what followed was civil war and the tragic assassination of AUB President Malcolm Kerr in January of 1984. Tom and Jean made the difficult decision to stay on in Beirut, and Tom spent the next year and a half guiding his faculty and students as he could under wartime conditions. Jean took on a position teaching English as a Second Language to Lebanese students through the Hariri Foundation, a program working to develop the human resources of Lebanon through education and humanitarian programs.

The decision to stay in Lebanon and the commitment to AUB students culminated in Tom’s abduction in June, 1985, by a group called the Islamic Jihad. They held him in captivity for the next six and a half years. During this time, Jean remained in Beirut as a member of a small expatriate community, continuing to teach ESL for Hariri Foundation students, and acting as a private emissary between the Islamic Jihad and United States government to advocate for the return of all the hostages.

Tom’s release in 1991 opened a new chapter for Jean, as she and Tom travelled extensively around the United States to speak of their experiences, wrote a memoir “At Your Own Risk” recounting those years in Lebanon, and enjoyed spending time with friends and family, including new grandchildren. They made many trips to Scotland to spend time with Tom’s brothers and sisters and hosted friends and family from Scotland and France in the Colorado mountains. Jean lost Tom in 2016, after 60 years of marriage.

Despite the harrowing time in Beirut, Jean continued her life of adventure and exploration. She travelled with a friend to Timbuktu, Mali, to explore the ancient manuscripts and libraries there. She explored the Galapagos Islands, the inside passage up the Alaskan coast, and the history and culture along the Mississippi River, with her daughters, in a replica Mississippi river paddle wheel boat. She enjoyed yearly trips to the Oregon coast, and spent time at Tahosa Pines, the cabin in the Rocky Mountains, and in a retreat she built for herself off the grid on the plains of northern Colorado, reveling in the changing seasons and wildlife. Jean lived her life with courage, strength, determination and grace, and according to words of Hunter S. Thompson:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!””

Jean is preceded in death by her parents, her husband, and her son-in-law Mike Sears, and is survived by her two brothers, Dave and John, her three daughters Ann (Ray Keller), Kit (Scott Kintz), and Joan (Mike Sears), 7 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Audubon Society.