Reflections on Tom Sutherland, 1931 - 2016

CALS faculty and alumni remember a dear friend with affection and emotion

Thomas Sutherland died on Friday, July 22, 2016, at the age of 85. He earned two degrees at Iowa State, his master’s in 1956 and his doctorate in 1958, both in animal science with major professor Jay Lush, who is called the father of modern animal breeding.

Sutherland was a professor of animal science for 26 years at Colorado State University before serving as dean of agriculture at American University of Beirut in Lebanon. On June 8, 1985, Sutherland and 53 other civilians were captured by Islamic militants. He spent 2,354 days in captivity, and was freed on Nov. 18, 1991.

In 2002, Sutherland generously provided the lead gift that made possible the Jay Lush Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics in ISU’s Department of Animal Science. He also established an annual scholarship for graduate students in animal science that recognizes excellence in academic performance and significant accomplishments in research.

A celebration of life ceremony for Sutherland will be held at the Lory Student Center of Colorado State University in Fort Collins on Aug. 20.

CALS Communications asked a few selected Iowa State faculty and alumni to share their reflections and memories about Sutherland. Their thoughts are listed below.

Dorrian Garrick

Garrick is the Jay Lush Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics and a professor of animal science at Iowa State. Tom Sutherland provided the lead gift that made the Lush Chair possible. A few days before Sutherland’s death, Garrick and his wife had visited him at his Colorado home.

Getting to know Tom. I didn’t know Tom well when I was on the faculty at Colorado State, but after I took the position here at Iowa State, I got to know him better. My family and I always visited and sometimes stayed with him when we were in Colorado. Sometimes he talked about the years he spent as a hostage. He used to joke with me that his contribution to the Lush Chair was essentially funded by terrorism. [Sutherland won a lawsuit against Iran for its role in sponsoring the militants who took him hostage.]

Fond memories of ISU. Tom absolutely loved to talk about Iowa State, and would proudly show off a piece of the campanile from its renovation in the 1990s.. He had unbelievably fond memories of his time at Iowa State. He came at a time when several similarly motivated people were studying under Jay Lush. Lush was hugely influential to Tom’s Ph.D. education, not just because of Lush’s intellect and communications skills, but also for the entourage of graduate students, including Tom, who formed a community. I was fortunate to be part of a similar community at Cornell University when I did my Ph.D. It was focused around another of Lush’s former students, C.R. (Charles Roy) Henderson.

Porridge for breakfast. I recall a story I heard that when Tom first came to Iowa State, he ate porridge or rolled oats for breakfast. He used to make enough to last a number of mornings and would store the bowls in his drawer. Each morning he’d take one out and eat it cold for breakfast.

Bagpipes and Robert Burns. Tom was well-informed, well-read and always able to converse about anything and everything. He would regularly quote lines from Robert Burns’ poetry from memory. He had a great sense of humor and was always making jokes. I never saw him play the bagpipes, but when he was a faculty member, I heard he would go into the first lecture of classes playing his bagpipes.

Sparkle in his eye. Tom and his wife Jean were always very welcoming. At our last visit to their home, a few days before he died, we spent half an hour talking at his bedside. Tom always had a mischievous sparkle in his eye. I saw it there even on this last visit.

Richard Willham

Willham is a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an emeritus professor of animal science at Iowa State. After completing his bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma State, Willham got a Fulbright scholarship to study in Edinburgh, Scotland. He and Esther had just been married, and the fellowship didn’t pay enough for the two of them to travel. Instead, they headed to Ames, Iowa, so Richard could begin his master’s degree at ISU. So, in one way, Scotland came to Richard because in Ames he met a native Scotsman named Tom Sutherland. They became fast — and lifelong — friends. Willham and his wife Esther were in Colorado in July and had planned to see their old friends, Tom and Jean, when they received the news of Tom’s death July 22.

Desks side-by-side. I knew Tom from the day he got off the airplane in Des Moines in 1954 and set foot in Ames. We were graduate students with desks side-by-side in Curtiss Hall. Esther and I both just fell in love with Tom. He charmed everyone. He loved to put on the brogue for you. He sometimes teased us about what a Scotsman wore underneath his kilt. He was just that way.

Calculus and fun. Tom and I took all our courses together. Both of us were good students. We had a real good time competing. We worked awfully hard under Dr. Lush. I’m not sure either of us knew exactly what population genetics was, but it turned out it was all about math. Boy, we knew we’d better get that calculus book out and get to work! But it was fun. We both wanted to be where we were. We were part of a really good group of graduate students from everywhere in the world studying at that time. To be exposed to people from so many countries was very helpful and rounded out our education.

The choir loft. Esther and I regularly took Tom to church in Ames. I remember him looking up to the choir loft, pointing at a girl and telling me, “That’s the girl I want to marry.” He was right. That was Jean Murray, whom he did marry. After earning our degrees, Tom and I always kept track of each other. Many times Esther and I would come to Colorado on vacation and we’d stop by Fort Collins and see him and Jean. He always loved to reminisce about Iowa State. We were crushed when we heard the news that Tom had died. We had been planning to see him again.

Keeping a watch. During the years Tom was held hostage, many of us would meet under the campanile and talk about him. It was a kind of watch we kept. His ability to live through that was something else. A lot of us would not have fared as well. But Tom held together. And boy, was he ever happy to see Iowa State again! We had a real blowout of a celebration in Kildee Hall for him when he came back.

Tom Sutherland, and his wife Jean, served as parade marshals at the Iowa State Veishea celebration in 1992.

Bob Walton

Walton earned his doctorate in animal science at Iowa State in 1961 and was one of the graduate students, including Tom Sutherland, who studied under Lush. Walton went on to serve for 20 years as president of ABS Global Inc. This fall, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will honor Walton as the 2016 recipient of the Henry A. Wallace Award.

Soccer versus football. Tom Sutherland was a great friend of 60 years since we were together as students under Dr. Lush. Tom, Charlie Smith and Louie Ollivier were classmates of mine. About 13 of us shared a large room in Curtiss Hall. Tom and Charlie were Scottish and Louie was French. They were avid soccer players. They were always bouncing a soccer ball off the wall or off their feet. I was an avid football player and had been a quarterback in high school. Throughout one winter, a debate ensued as to whether I could throw a football as far as they could kick a soccer ball. Their theory was that a man’s leg was stronger than his arm. One nice spring day about four o’clock on the lawn outside Curtiss Hall, the contest took place as hundreds of students were changing classes. Tom was chosen to kick for their team. When he kicked, the soccer ball took off like a cannon with a mighty boom for about 50 yards. Then I threw the football and it went nearly 70 yards. We had to do it over three times before they gave up. They just could not understand the aerodynamics of a football in flight!

One tough Scot. Tom was one tough Scot. He was a gentle and gracious man. He was a great teacher at Colorado State, American University and even when he was held hostage in Lebanon, where he taught his fellow captives about genetics and agriculture. His resilience and his humility were so amazing after his release, considering what he had to endure. His wife, Jean, and their three daughters were so courageous and supportive before, during and after that terrible experience. Tom’s understated sense of humor was so evident when he told me he would have enjoyed those six-plus years in Lebanon a lot more if he had known that after his release, he would be awarded [in the lawsuit] several thousand dollars for every hour he spent in captivity.

Support and appreciation. While most of my fellow graduate students remained in the academic research field, I entered the business world after leaving Iowa State. Tom was always supportive and appreciative of my role in putting Dr. Lush’s ideas in animal breeding into commercial application. Tom was very generous in support of many causes important to him, including the lead funding to establish the chair in Dr. Lush’s memory at Iowa State. He supported teachers and education in Colorado (where my kid sister, a teacher in Canon City, Colorado, became a close friend to Tom and Jean). He supported groups that help troubled youth, he supported the arts, plus much more that I’m sure I don’t know about.

Max Rothschild

Rothschild is a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, professor of animal science and the M.E. Ensminger International Chair in Iowa State’s Department of Animal Science. He was a young assistant professor when he first met Tom Sutherland in the 1980s at a national animal science meeting.

Impactful advice. Tom helped convince me to take a sabbatical in France and work with Louis Ollivier at INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. Tom and Louis were the best of friends. Both had been ISU graduate students under Jay Lush in the mid-’50s, along with Richard Willham and many more. I took Tom’s advice and it had a big impact on me. It helped guide me early in my career. The six months I spent working with Ollivier in France was my first big international experience. It got me interested in doing much more international work.

Louis Ollivier

A native of France, Ollivier earned his master’s degree at Iowa State under Lush in 1957. He is emeritus director of research of INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. He led research in animal genetics and quantitative genetics at INRA from 1960 to his retirement in 2005. He is a member of the French Academy of Agriculture and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.

Welcoming, hard working, brilliant. I met Tom at Ames in the fall of 1956 when I started a 12-month stay at Iowa State, funded by a Fulbright scholarship. I still remember vividly the warmth of his welcome and all he did for making my life at Ames as pleasant and profitable as possible, including the efforts he displayed — with some help I must mention from his fellow Scotsman Charlie Smith and from John Wilson of Belfast — in making me realize and practice every day the subtle differences to keep in mind between “true” English and the American language. Apart from being a hard-working and brilliant graduate student, Tom was also gifted with exceptional sporting abilities that we could particularly admire in the soccer championships organized at Iowa State. We knew that Tom was a quite promising soccer player and had been approached for joining the Scotland national soccer team. He declined the offer and chose research instead.

Friends in France. My stay in Ames was the starting point of a friendship with Tom and his family, maintained ever since. Ten years after earning my degree at Iowa State, I was happy to welcome Tom at the Department of Animal Genetics of INRA (the French National Institute for Agricultural Research) at Jouy-en-Josas and also to make acquaintance with Jean and their three young daughters. At INRA, Tom made numerous new friends and astonished them with his well-known sense of humor. Bertrand Langlois reminded me of a particularly nice story which has remained in our memories. Tom had left his Volvo at Fort Collins and had it shipped over the Atlantic to the harbor of Cherbourg. He drove to Jouy and there he deflated one tire and started breathing the air coming out, with obvious delight. “Ah! This is some air from America,” he said.

A return trip to Paris. Later on, we learned of Tom’s capture by Hezbollah in Beirut. The news came to us about the time of the 1985 meeting of EAAP, the European Association for Animal Production, held in Kallithea, Greece. Charlie Smith was also attending the meeting and we shared our concerns about Tom’s ordeal, which was unfortunately due to last until 1991. After he was freed, on his way back to Fort Collins, Tom made a stop in Paris. He was coming from Germany where he had landed and joined Jean again. To our great surprise, we found him to be the same Tom, the same character and the same sense of humor. But as to the subject of his days in captivity, he remained very discreet. Understandably, we discovered later on, when we learned how much he had suffered. In the years following, several times we had the pleasure to join the Sutherlands at their Fort Collins home as well as in their cabin in the Rockies.

Selected Iowa State links to past news and information on Tom Sutherland:

Department of Animal Science History “Hallmarkers,” Tom Sutherland,

Tom Sutherland Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Parks Library

Inside Iowa State, May 18, 2006, Tom Sutherland quote and photo, speaking at Class of ’56 dinner during ISU Alumni Days,

CALS News Release, Oct. 15, 2002: Sutherland Gift Honors Jay Lush: A Legend In Animal Breeding,…