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Sutherland, Thomas

Published onOct 15, 2021
Sutherland, Thomas

(May 3, 1931 – )

Quick Facts

Alumnus Thomas Sutherland’s research and teaching in the area of animal genetics gained international acclaim, although he is best known for being held hostage for 2353 days by Islamic Jihad in Beirut in 1985.

Thomas Sutherland (born May 3, 1931) is the former Dean of Agriculture at the American University in Beirut. He is best known for having been kidnapped in Beirut by Islamic Jihad on Jun 9, 1985 and held hostage for 2353 days. He is married to Jean and has three daughters Ann, Katherine, and Joan.

Born in Scotland, Sutherland studied at Glasgow Univerisity and then continued his studies in the United States. He earned a Master’s (1956) and PhD (1958) in animal breeding and genetics from Iowa State University. Subsequently he taught at Colorado State University for 26 years.

The ISU Alumni Merit Award citation, which he received in 2003, reads.

“Tom Sutherland has devoted an entire career to education, with service to thousands of students and advisees. His research and teaching in the area of animal genetics has gained him international acclaim. He went to Beirut, and remained there despite threats, to complete the mission he had undertaken as dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, to further agricultural education in the Middle East. In Beirut, he endured six years of imprisonment as a hostage, sharing a cell with Terry Anderson, a fellow Iowa Stater. With his wife, Jean, he authored a book, At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East.

Since his return, he has given thousands of motivational and inspirational presentations to schools, colleges, churches, corporations, companies, and clubs. Scholarships in his name have been established at Iowa State, American University of Beirut, and Colorado State. At Iowa State, his lead gift established a Jay L. Lush Endowed Chair in Genomics.” [The Chair, a million dollar endowment, is named after his early mentor at Iowa State.]

Sutherland is a life member of the ISU Alumni Association and a member of the Order of The Knoll.”

In June 2001 he won a $323 million lawsuit against the government of Iran, which was the backer of the kidnap group. The suit was filed against frozen Iranian assets in the United States. He received over $35 million with the rest held by the US Government in lien.

He was a fellow prisoner with Terry Anderson and the longest held hostage in Lebanon and 10 other foreign nationals.

Sutherland has described how the captives kept up each other’s morale by telling stories. Anderson, an Associated Press war correspondent apparently taught Sutherland how a differential transmission works without the benefit of any writing tools. Sutherland reciprocated by teaching Anderson French and agricultural science.

Sutherland has talked about the importance of knowing Anderson in captivity saying, "If it hadn't been for Terry, I probably would have committed suicide. Every time I got discouraged and put my head down on the pillow and said, 'I'm done with all this,' Terry encouraged me, and that's the reason I am alive today."

The Los Angeles Times reported in 1991 that Sutherland had tried to commit suicide three times while in captivity. He told the times, The captors "wouldn't even give me a candle to eat by. They really were causing me a lot of grief and I thought to myself, 'I'll be damned if I'm going to put up with this, I'd sooner die,' " Sutherland, 60, said on ABC's "Nightline." "And so I tried to pull a plastic bag over my head and suffocate myself, but I found out on each try that it got very painful and as it got more painful, the vision of my wife and three daughters appeared before me ever more clearly.

"And I decided each time, 'Gee, I can't go through with this,' and I would pull it off," he said. "Now, of course, I'm glad I did that.

Black Tie Colorado notes that Sullivan has been a generous supporter of local organizations “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.”

He has had a special connection to the Colorado Boys Ranch in La Junta that serves abused boys from across the United States. He has said that having suffered mental and physical abuse himself at the hands of his captors he has a special connection to and understanding of boys who have been mostly abused by relatives.

He says, “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.”

Selected Sources

“At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East,” Tom Sutherland and Jean Sutherland, (Fulcrum Publishing, February 20, 1996)

“Have You Met Thomas Sutherland,” Black Tie Colorado.

“Humanity held hostage: Tom Sutherland and Terry Anderson,” By John Moore The Denver Post, 1/25/2008

“Sutherland Says He Tried Suicide 3 Times While He Was Held Hostage” Los Angeles Times, December 05, 1991.

Sutherland v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 151 F.Supp.2d 27 (D.D.C. 2001)

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