Thomas Shelton Sutherland

Portrait of Thomas Shelton Sutherland Headstone Photograph


Thomas Shelton Sutherland IV

Poet, Teacher,
Storyteller,
Father

Sept. 21, 1911 Uvalde
Sept. 14, 1991 Austin

"Home is
the lighted
sanctum of
the soul."

Back of headstone

Sutherland
Full Name: Thomas Shelton Sutherland
Location: Section:Republic Hill, Section 1 (C1)
Row:F  Number:18
Reason for Eligibility: Governor's Proclamation 
Birth Date: September 21, 1911 
Died: September 14, 1991 
Burial Date: September 19, 1991 
 

SUTHERLAND, THOMAS SHELTON (1911~1991) Thomas Shelton Sutherland was born September 21, 1911 in Uvalde, Uvalde County, Texas. After moving with his family to Bell County, Texas, Sutherland hitchhiked throughout Mexico becoming fluent and enamored with the Spanish language and culture. Returning to the United States, he attended the University of Texas at Austin where he received a BA, and graduated Cum Laude, and a MA in Spanish. From 1929 to 1935, Sutherland served in the Horse Cavalry, 36th Division, 124th Regiment. He also served in World War Two as a Lieutenant J. G., Language Officer in the U. S. Navy. In 1940, Sutherland attended the National University of Mexico where he completed requirements for a doctorate. While attending the National University of Mexico, he also attended the Oriental Language School in Boulder, Colorado, where he studied Russian. In all Sutherland spoke seven languages. He used his affinity for languages to educate people across Texas and the Southwest. He taught high school in McCamey, Texas, college at the University of Denver, the Universidad Veracruzana, in Xalpa, Mexico, and was Coordinator of the Language Training Program for the Peace Corps. At the end of his career, he taught at Arlington State College, now the University of Texas at Arlington. Sutherland also worked in many international and intercultural arenas. He worked as a translator for the General Land Office, Senior Information Analyst with the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, and guided harmonious desegregation of Mexicans in schools with the Good Neighbor Commission of Texas. He also worked as the Regional Director of the Institute of International Education, guided Black and White desegregation of Texas Schools following the Supreme Courts decision, and with the Unitarian Service Committee. Married twice, Sutherland had ten children and sixteen grandchildren.

Enclosed in the Cemetery Archives was the eulogy that Thomas‘ sister, Liz Sutherland Carpenter, gave at his funeral. In order for other Texan‘s to know what kind of man is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, we have included her last words to her brother.

A true son of the West, loved horses, knives and guns, and women and he had them near all his life. He spoke Spanish with a lyrical love for the whole culture and he taught it as well as the literature of the Southwest. He traveled Mexico, hitchhiking as a teenager and he became the first executive director of the Texas Good Neighbor Commission where he fought for equality. He was a storyteller to his family or his classes, telling with gusto all he had absorbed by growing up in Bell County, graduating with an MA at the University of Texas, and the University of Mexico. He learned from "the trial fields of life" which he considered the best of all experiences. There was no one who didn't interest him...his children, grandchildren, or a clerk at Wal-Mart. And now for some personal observations because a Sister can say this:

Tommy Sutherland was the most loving, hilarious, and exasperating man I know. A word first on exasperation:

His head was full of poetry, philosophy, the great works of Mark Twain and Shakespeare...sometimes to a fault to those of us who are more compulsive about organization. He could overlook the ordinary rules of life, like tidiness and structure and even the most basic necessities of living.

Once when I dropped by his house, he was reading for the umpteenth time, Huckleberry Finn, reading it by a dilapidated old lamp. The globe had burned out, and with heavy silver tape Tommy had taped onto the shade a flashlight that furnished the light he was using. I was so disgusted and said, "so why don't you buy a light bulb” What are you going to do when the flashlight burns out?"

He grinned and said, "I'll just tape on a jar of lightning bugs."

That was the way he lived, keeping his mind on the larger picture, a picture always of hope and love and human happiness instead of coping with the mundane things of life, like electricity.

Only Tommy could bring together in this room two former wives, ten children from two families, most of his sixteen grandchildren, three stepchildren, and innumerable cousins, talkative Sutherlands, proud Robertsons, friends who spend their life arguing... and expect it to work.

But maybe it can work. And that's where the loving, and the high heart, and the laughter come in.

For me, for my brothers, George and Bill, we have lost our beloved oldest brother. And I have lost my "steady Bartlett's quotations"...my wordsmith...who could always, even at 5:30 in the morning, remember the line from Browning or Tennyson that our mother used for appropriate situations. I would phone him and would read my copy for a magazine piece or a chapter of a book and he would give me a better word in a key part that made all the difference.

He had that rare capacity to rise above the mundane in the midst of disaster and turmoil. I never saw him lose heart or faith.

It is a great solace to his family that he will be buried among his ancestors and friends in the State Cemetery. A great great grandfather, the Empresario Sterling C. Robertson and William Meneffee, a great-great uncle both signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence are here.

Nearby he has friends and Texas storytellers Fred Gipson, Webb, Dobie.

I find a sense of peace and continuity there under that grove of trees, as you will, and because I know something about life and death, I promise all of you that our association with his loving spirit is not over. In the years ahead, his memory will give us laughter, words and counsel when we least expect it... for he loved us all."

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