Thomas Sutherland, who died Friday at the age of 85, dedicated his life to education, his family and to promote arts in Fort Collins. He is better known for being kidnapped in the 1980s at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was Dean of Agriculture. Sutherland was held hostage for six years, and he is remembered for being an exceptional person that believed education was the light for people in a dark world.

The Denver Post says Jean Sutherland reported that her husband’s health was in decline. She informed Thomas died Friday night at their home in Fort Collins. He was 85 years old and recently celebrated with his wife their 60 years anniversary, a marriage that survived the tragic experienced that lasted six years. Jean Sutherland thinks her husband was ready to leave this world. She said it was important for him to died peacefully at what he called home and added that Thomas felt he had lived a great life.

Thomas Sutherland, who was kidnapped and kept hostage in the 1980's during the Lebanon crisis, died Friday at the age of 85. Photo credit: Carpenean
Thomas Sutherland, who was kidnapped and kept hostage in the 1980’s during the Lebanon crisis, died Friday at the age of 85. Photo credit: Carpenean

Sutherland was born in Scotland and end up in Colorado after marrying Jean Sutherland. He had dedicated 26 years of his life to teaching animal science at Colorado State University (CSU) when he took the job as dean of Agriculture at the American University in Beirut, where his wife taught English.

The Colorado State University website published a statement in honor to Thomas Sutherland. The dean of the CSU’ College of Agricultural Sciences, Ajay Menon, said that the College of Agricultural Sciences mourns the passing of Sutherland, who was a global ambassador for agriculture and a valued colleague. Menon referred to Sutherland as a dedicated educator and added that his philanthropic contributions made a difference in the life of the young students in the Department of Animals Science of the University and around the world. He stated that his love for teaching and research would remain as his legacy.

CSU Provost Rick Miranda said that Thomas Sutherland was an inspiring example of courage, strength, and integrity. Miranda stated that his death is greatly saddened, but yet he feels lucky for having the opportunity to share an incredible journey by his side. Miranda also said he would be missed as a community beacon, a local celebrity, and his friend.

Thomas Sutherland and his 2,353 days of terror as a hostage. An unexpected friendship grew in the cells.

Thomas moved to Lebanon in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War and was kidnapped on June 9, 1985, by Shiite Hezbollah terrorists that were against U.S. military forces involved in the Lebanese civil war. Sutherland issued a lawsuit where hi states his captors torture him with a  rubber truncheon.  The first time he was hit with it was on the sole of his feet, but then the beating escalated, and Sutherland was hit with the rubber truncheon over his entire body, turning almost all his skin black and blue.

Physically torture was not the kidnappers’ only way of harming the hostages. In the lawsuit Thomas Sutherland states he was mentally tortured by death threats and the constant lies about his quick return to America.

Thomas was released after six years of being held against his will on November 18, 1991. He was the hostage that was kidnapped for the longest time by Hezbollah, except Terry Anderson. They were lucky to return home safe because at least eight victims died in captivity.

Terry Anderson was the Associated Press bureau chief Terry Anderson in the 1980s and was also kidnapped by the Hezbollah.

Anderson told the Associated Press on Saturday that he spent six years out of 7 with Sutherland, to whom hi refers as “Tommy.” He said that they were kept in the same cells sometimes, and even in the same chain. During that time, Sutherland taught Anderson French, who says Thomas spoke the language beautifully and then used to practice irregular verbs.

When Anderson talks about Sutherland, he says he was a people person that remembered everybody he met. He admitted not to know how he did it but insisted that he never forgot anyone. Anderson said Sutherland used to talk about people he had encountered during his captivity, and he remembered them all. Anderson said Thomas was a “very, very good man.”

After his liberation, Thomas returned to Fort Collins to his wife, and he also returned to the Colorado State University, where served as professor emeritus, a title given to teachers who have retired in good standing.

In the CSU’s statement, the Colorado State University President Tony Frank said that one of the greatest moments of the university was the afternoon in 1991 when Thomas Sutherland was welcome home from his long captivity in Beirut. Frank added that his spirit and optimism inspired the world, and the deep devotion to his family during those dark years as a hostage had taught the community a profound lesson of courage, faith, and hope.

The Sutherland Family Foundation donations to promote art, food, and science

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts reports that in June 2001, after ten years of coming back home from his long kidnapping, the Sutherland family won the verdict against the frozen assets of the government of Iran and received $35 million from those frozen assets.

With that money Thomas Sutherland purchased a historic building in Fort Collins hat became the location for the Bas Bleu Theatre Company, according to the arts center, and the building cost $1.1 million.

He and his wife donated to many other causes, including the Food Bank of Larimer County, the Colorado Boys Ranch, CSU agricultural scholarships, The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, and Crossroads Safehouse. All the donations are made through the Sutherland Family Foundation.

The CSU’s website reports that Jean and Thomas Sutherland were honored in 2014 by the Colorado State University with the prestigious Founders Day Medal, to recognize their exemplary service to the University and higher education worldwide. This medal is given annually to those pioneers efforts that have influenced the character and development of the CSU.

Source: Colorado State University