Thomas Sutherland passed away yesterday. We are repeating this interview from many years ago.
Tom Sutherland may have been a hostage for 6 ½ years, but you would never know it by looking at him, his life, or his history of philanthropy. He is a true American hero not only for what he endured in Beirut, Lebanon from 1985-1991 but also for his community leadership and extraordinary giving spirit.
Tom and his wife, Jean, live in the same house they have lived in for 33 years. Fame, awards, and achievements in many areas of life, has not changed this man. Once a dairy farm boy in Scotland, Tom was inspired to go to school in the United States for graduate study and went on to become a professor of animal science at Colorado State University (CSU) in Ft. Collins. He did research in France and worked in Ethiopia. Eventually, he reached a professional career high as the Dean of Agriculture at the American University of Beirut. It was at this time that the Islamic Jihad captured him. His wife, Jean, left Colorado to stay in Beirut during his captivity. She was actively teaching and interacting with the faculty and students. The story of their years of struggle is written about in At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East. Upon his return to Colorado in 1991, his friends organized a motorcade and rally at the university’s Moby Arena. It was the biggest community-wide welcome-home ever seen in Ft. Collins.
The following year in 1992, he was invited to attend the “Banquet of the Golden Plate” presented by the American Academy of Achievement. Tom was one of several outstanding Americans who were honored and presented with the prestigious award. Top high-school students from around the country are also invited to meet these leaders in a private setting. The year Tom was honored, Barbara Streisand and Dolly Parton were also honored. That was a thrill for him after just getting out of captivity after six years. Education has always been important to Tom. His early mentor, Professor Jay Lush at Iowa State, so affected his graduate studies that he gave a million-dollar endowment to his alma mater. The Jay Lush Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics was established to recognize the achievements of Jay Lush, one of the world's premier animal scientists, for his influential work in the study of animal breeding and genetics. But Tom’s true spirit lives in his local community. There are many nonprofit groups in Ft. Collins that have been touched by Tom and Jean’s generous giving.
The local battered women’s shelter, the Food Bank of Ft. Collins, Blue Stockings Theater, the Boys and Girls Club, even KNUC-91.5, a public radio station in Greeley, was “saved” and remains a locally-controlled station because of a substantial gift from Tom. But the group that has captured Tom’s personal attention and involvement is the Colorado Boys Ranch in La Junta. This facility has about 80 boys from all over the country who have been severely abused. Here, he tells his story of torture and abuse to kids who have experienced similar things, except at the hands of their parents.
He connects with them in a way no one else does. And, he leads by example, showing that someone can heal and move on with a productive life after surviving physical and mental abuse. Jean said, “Talking to those boys has been his healing.” The Ranch has an 80 percent success rate and Tom’s experiences have touched the lives of many. “I can’t do anything about those 6 ½ years (held hostage), they’re gone, but I can do something about the rest of my life.”