Tom Sutherland, the Magnanimous Hostage
By Robin Wright
By Robin Wright
In 1984, I used to visit Tom Sutherland and his wife, Jean, after running on the track at the American University of Beirut. They had dared to join the faculty at a time when Lebanon was a rough place to live. The civil war was in its ninth year; the Israeli invasion was in its second year. Hezbollah, the emerging Shiite militia, was taking control of West Beirut, including the scenic seafront area around the university. Fighting disrupted daily life—you often didn’t know which war was playing out around you—and made sleep difficult. Electricity was erratic; shops often had food shortages. That was the year the American University president was assassinated and a professor taken hostage. The Sutherlands and I would sit on their terrace, sipping cool drinks in the Beirut heat, and ponder the latest chaos around us.
Tom, who died on Saturday, was a loquacious man, with a slightly receding hairline and a subtle sense of humor. He had grown up in Scotland before moving to the United States for graduate work in animal science. He spent more than a quarter century teaching animal husbandry and genetics at Colorado State University, and became a naturalized American citizen, but he spoke with the lilting Scottish burr of his early years. He still had a kilt, and loved to find a reason to quote Robert Burns. In 1983, he took a leave from Colorado State to become the dean of agriculture at American University, which was known as the Harvard of the Middle East until the civil war broke out. Jean, an earthy Midwesterner who loved to laugh at her husband’s humor, taught English. They still believed in the innate goodness of people; I didn’t.