clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ex-Lebanon hostage Thomas Sutherland, 85, dies in Colorado

Thomas Sutherland jumps and shouts after arriving at Fort Collins-Loveland Airport outside his hometown of Fort Collins, Colo., on Dec. 1, after spending six and a half years as a hostage in Lebanon. | AP file photo

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Thomas Sutherland, a teacher was held captive in Lebanon for more than six years until he was freed in 1991 and returned home to become professor emeritus at Colorado State University, has died.

Sutherland died in Fort Collins on Friday, according to Colorado State University. He was 85.

Sutherland was one of a number of Americans in Lebanon — including Associated Press bureau chief Terry Anderson — who were kidnapped by terrorist groups in the 1980s.

Sutherland was dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science at American University in Beirut when he was taken hostage by Islamic terrorists in 1985.

“I spent six years out of the seven years I was in captivity with Tommy,” Anderson said Saturday. “We were kept in the same cells and sometimes on the same chain. Whenever they moved us, generally Tommy would show up with me. He was a kind and gentle man.”

Sutherland taught him French when they were hostages, Anderson said. “He spoke beautiful French. We practiced irregular verbs,” he said.

Anderson said Sutherland “was a guy who remembered everyone he ever met. He never forgot anyone. I don’t know how he did it. He was such a people person that he remembered everybody. When we were in prison, we would sit and talk about things we had done and places he had gone. He always talked about the people he met there, and he remembered them. He was a very, very good man.”

When Sutherland was freed in 1991, he returned to CSU and served as professor emeritus. The Denver Post reported Sutherland took up acting in his early 70s and donated millions to area arts organizations.

“The entire Colorado State University community joins once again in honoring a true hero — who believed that an understanding of agricultural science could bring relief to people and communities in hunger — and that education could be a force for good and light in our world that would transcend borders and differences among nations,” Colorado State University President Tony Frank said in a posting Saturday on CSU’s website.

In 1996, Sutherland and his wife, Jean, came out with a book about the Middle East and their ordeal titled “At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East.”

The Sutherlands were longtime community leaders and volunteers, CSU said. They formed the Sutherland Family Foundation, which has supported many Fort Collins nonprofits.

In 2014, the Sutherlands received the annual Founders Day Medal in recognition of their service to the university, Fort Collins, and higher education worldwide. The medal is given “to those whose pioneering efforts have had an extraordinary influence on the character and development of CSU,” the posting on CSU’s website said.