Tom Sutherland passes away at 85

Thomas Sutherland, a Fort Collins community leader with boundless generosity and an emeritus professor at Colorado State University who inspired the world with his strength and resilience, has passed away at the age of 85.

“The entire Colorado State University community joins once again in honoring a true hero – who believed that an understanding of agricultural science could bring relief to people and communities in hunger — and that education could be a force for good and light in our world that would transcend borders and differences among nations,” Colorado State University President Tony Frank said July 23 in noting Sutherland’s passing.

Sutherland was serving as dean of the faculty of Agriculture and Food Science at American University in Beirut when he was taken hostage in 1985 and held in captivity for more than six years. When he was freed, Sutherland and his wife, Jean, were welcomed home to a Fort Collins community adorned with yellow ribbons tied around trees and the largest celebration in the city’s history.

“One of the greatest moments in the history of Colorado State University was the afternoon in 1991 when we welcomed our friend and colleague Tom Sutherland home from his long captivity in Beirut,” Frank said. “His spirit and optimism inspired the world, and the deep devotion of his family during the bleak years he was a hostage taught us a profound lesson of courage, faith, and hope.”

“The College of Agricultural Sciences mourns the passing of a valued colleague and a global ambassador for agriculture,” the dean of CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Ajay Menon said. “Thomas Sutherland was a dedicated educator whose love for teaching and research remains his legacy. His educational and philanthropic contributions made a difference in the lives of students in the Department of Animal Sciences at CSU and around the world.”

Longtime community leaders and volunteers, Tom and Jean Sutherland established the Sutherland Family Foundation, which has supported many Fort Collins nonprofits including the Food Bank of Larimer County, Bas Bleu Theatre, and community radio. They have also been generous supporters of the Colorado Boys Ranch, CSU agricultural scholarships, the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, and Crossroads Safehouse.

“Thomas Sutherland was an awe-inspiring example of courage, strength and integrity, and he will be deeply missed as a community beacon, a local celebrity, and a personal friend to many,” CSU provost Rick Miranda said. “We are greatly saddened by his passing, yet remain extraordinarily lucky to have shared in his incredible journey. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this sad time.”

In 2014 the Colorado State University community honored Tom and Jean Sutherland with the prestigious Founders Day Medal in recognition of their exemplary service to the University, Fort Collins, and higher education worldwide. The Founders Day Medal is given annually to those whose pioneering efforts have had an extraordinary influence on the character and development of CSU.

“We offer our most sincere condolences to Jean and the entire Sutherland family, and the comfort of knowing our hearts are with him in the highlands, and his legacy will live on,” Frank said.