The community that embraced a humble Scotsman as its hero will have one last chance to sing his praises – and say Auld Lang Syne.
Thomas Sutherland, the remarkable emeritus CSU professor of animal sciences who demonstrated to the world his indomitable spirit and courage following more than six years of captivity in Beirut, Lebanon, by Hezbollah terrorists, will be memorialized by the university and the Fort Collins community Aug. 20. The celebration of life begins at 2 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Lory Student Center and will be open to the public.
Sutherland, 85, passed away July 22 with his beloved wife, Jean, and family by his side. The native of Falkirk, Scotland, leaves behind a community that is far greater than the one he first fell in love with when he first arrived in 1966.
CSU President Tony Frank remembered the December afternoon in 1991 when the campus – yellow ribbons tied around every tree in the historic Oval – welcomed Sutherland home.
Celebration of life
Family, friends, and the entire Fort Collins and campus community will have the opportunity to gather in memory of Tom Sutherland at a celebration of his life on Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Grand Ballroom.
“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,” Frank wrote. “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.”
Sutherland spent the last 25 years making up for the 2,353 days he lost. While many friends and colleagues expected him to be bitter about his lot – his abductors would admit they grabbed Sutherland by mistake, thinking he was the president of American University in Beirut rather than the dean of agriculture – instead he spent the rest of his days making his world a better place.
Thanks to a $35 million settlement he received in 2001 from a lawsuit against the government of Iran, he set up the Sutherland Family Foundation and almost immediately began sharing the fruits of what he jokingly described as “my six-year vacation paid for by the Shah of Iran.” He and Jean championed numerous causes, including the Colorado Boys Ranch, CSU agricultural scholarships, the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and Crossroads Safehouse.
They were invaluable friends of the Fort Collins arts community, providing support for the Larimer Chorale, Bas Bleu Theatre Company, the Fort Collins Symphony and the CSU art museum.
Their generosity inspired, among others, Pat Stryker, the benevolent Fort Collins billionaire known for her support of – among many others – the city’s music and arts community.
“I first met Tom after his captivity. His seats at Hughes Stadium were right in front of mine; I always looked forward to seeing him. He always had a smile on his face and his joy was contagious,” Stryker said. “I have tremendous respect for Tom. After being robbed of more than six years of his life as a hostage, he still chose to love and value the good in people. He inspired me to look for the positive in people and to not dwell on the bad stuff. His spirit and generosity continue to benefit countless organizations and individuals in our community.
“As we approach the coming football season, it will be hard not to look for him.”
He inspired the media who covered his capture and release, agreeing time and again to be interviewed about his captivity and how it impacted his life and that of his family.
“Tom’s love, willpower, patience, and ability to forgive the people who held him prisoner was boundless,” said Jim Hanchett, a reporter for Denver’s KCNC-TV at the time. “Pipers played ‘Amazing Grace’ every year on his birthday while he was in captivity. He was Amazing Grace, and I know the pipers are playing for him now. How sweet the sound.”