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Remembering Don and Marie Sutherland

Ned Groth, September 2018

(Author’s note: Unlike most of our faculty memorials, this biographical remembrance covers both halves of the couple who shared our junior and senior years at Darrow. As I begin this, Don has passed away, while Marie soldiers on. But their lives were so entwined for 60 years or so that it is impossible to write about him without including her, while to cover her separately later would entail a great deal of repetition, so I am treating them as a duo. The goal, as always, has been to create an honest and loving portrait of our former faculty members.  I’ve striven for factual accuracy but take full responsibility for any errors.  –NG)

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\62 yearbook - Copy.jpegDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\62 yearbook - Copy (4).jpeg
Don and Marie came to Darrow in the fall of 1960, along with John Spencer, as Mr. Heyniger's last hires. Don Beaver, who had taught earth science and physics for two years, had left to go back to grad school. Don took over those science courses (the 1961 yearbook says physics and "general science," whatever that means, and also mentions geometry. ) Marie came along as a "bonus." With two degrees, a lively mind and an energetic community spirit, she was talented and eager to contribute. That was the year the school decided to try to build a hockey rink, so the team could play home games, which had never been possible before. The players and Des McCracken took that on as their Hands-to-Work assignment for the fall and winter, which meant Des left the library behind on Wednesdays, and Marie was appointed school Librarian to fill the vacancy.

Don was the assistant wrestling coach (Charles Brodhead was head coach) and, again according to the yearbook, he also coached freshman baseball (we had a freshman team??) They lived in the apartment on the top floor of the Meeting House, and if memory serves, there was one suite with three or four upper-class boys on the second floor, so technically they were dorm parents.

As was nearly always the case in those days (see Spencer memorial!), faculty members were given nicknames, often disrespectful ones, by the "fine Darrow boys." Both Don and Marie were so christened with unkind monikers, in each case based on their appearance. Marie's is lost in the dust bin of  history, but Don used to joke openly about his, even years later. We called him "Stone Face," partly after the monumental natural formation that adorned New Hampshire license plates, but more basically because he almost always wore a near-frozen expression. The yearbook photo above is as close to a smile as was likely to be seen on Don's face. Sometimes he looked sleepy (or actually sleeping); in the picture of the wrestling team below, it looks as if he was caught with eyes closed. One version of a joke that made the rounds was that he'd stumble out of bed and down the stairs and across to Wickersham (the physics classroom was just inside the door facing the Meeting House) for his first-period, 7:50 AM class, and his eyes would open somewhere around 3rd period.
Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Wrestling.jpegWhile Don could seem expressionless, he was in fact a warm and friendly guy with a sly, if somewhat corny, sense of humor that he shared often, once you got to know him. And when the chips were down, he was not frozen or sleepy at all—quite the opposite. One day at wrestling practice, I was sparring with Chip Dismukes. Chip used an (illegal) takedown and slammed me to the mat on my back. I banged my head on the (old, thin, crappy) mat and was knocked cold; with the wind knocked out of me, I gasped for breath and swallowed my tongue. I wasn't "there" to witness it but teammates told me Don was on me in a flash, wrenched my mouth open, grabbed my tongue and pulled it out so I could breathe. He then picked me up and carried me over to the infirmary, where I was treated for a concussion. I woke up awhile later, in a hospital bed, surrounded by Aunt Collie, Dr. Cris, Don, and Chip (the last still white as a sheet). They told me what had happened. I told them I was OK (and I hope I thanked Don!) They kept me overnight for observation but I was fine the next day. 

Dave Benson, one of the guys who lived in the meeting House, recalls another time when Don was maybe a bit too awake and energized. One night Don (or maybe Marie) smelled smoke or thought they did. Dave awoke to find Don standing over him, yelling "Fire!" and shaking him by the chest with both hands. They evacuated the building. Of course, Dave says, there was no fire. 

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Library Committee 1961.jpegI was on the library crew (for all four years), and Marie oversaw my Hands-to-Work efforts, such as they were (it was not very challenging work!) Here we are, junior year—me, P.J. Gorday, Pete Loomis, Carl Braun and Marie. We were a happy gang; she was a hands-on but benevolent manager. Marie took her work as librarian seriously. When the Dairy Barn opened as the new school gym in the fall of 1959, freeing up the Meeting House, the former gym, Mr. Heyniger presented his plan to transform that latter Shaker landmark into the school library. (The library in our day was in the Meeting Room on the 3rd floor of the rear wing of Wickersham, now called the Bethards Room.) After the Boss died in October 1960, his Princeton classmates quickly raised the funds needed to remodel the library in his memory, and by early 1961 the prospect of moving the library into the Meeting House loomed. Marie began systematically cataloguing the books to prepare for the transition. So while we boys were dusting tables, sweeping the floor and reshelving returns each Wednesday, she was busy with a complex, challenging self-assigned task.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Science Seminar 1961.jpegSenior year, I took Don's physics course. We used the (then-new) PSSC Physics textbook, a pretty advanced course (essentially college physics for high schoolers), and Don seemed to enjoy teaching from it. He knew the material very well, had a good sense of when we needed more help to "get" stuff, and the labs were often a lot of fun. I was pretty good friends with Don Blumenthal '61, who took physics with Don the year before. That's him in the front row between Bob Blair and Kiyo Toh in this "Science Seminar" photo from the 1961 yearbook. DB  enjoyed the course a lot, so I looked forward to taking it. Blumenthal later got a BA and PhD from Caltech and had a very successful career as an atmospheric modeler, built perhaps in part on what he learned from Don at Darrow.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Radio Club 1961.jpegBoth Don and Marie were widely involved in other parts of campus life. In addition to the Science Seminar, Don was the faculty advisor to Radio Club, also shown here. (Both pictures are from the 1961 yearbook; no comparable ones appear in our '62 yearbook. Either there were fewer extracurricular activities in '61-'62, or our yearbook failed to record them.) According to the blurb in the yearbook, the Radio Club built and operated "ham" sets. They'd meet in the projection room on the 4th floor of Wickersham (a cramped space behind the moose head in the library). Dick Kohler '61 (at right, hands folded, in the photo) was the most experienced "ham" and a true technical expert.

Marie also had campus roles beyond librarian. When Mr. Heyniger died, Mrs. Heyniger moved away, and the headmaster's wife's traditional  role chairing the Social Committee was vacant. Mrs. Brodhead might have taken on that task, which involved mostly arranging for dances with girls' schools and planning those events with a Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Social Committee 1961.jpegcommittee of boys, but Marie filled it instead. Whether she volunteered or was drafted isn't stated, but the year was a great success. The next fall, the role passed onDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Dramatics, The Moving Finger 1961.jpeg to Jean Joline.

We also had a Drama Club in those years, led by Richard Bethards. When female roles needed casting there were few candidates. Marie once again stepped up, performing in several plays. This scene (again according to the 1961 yearbook) is from "The Moving Finger," by Percival Wile. (I could not find a play of that title by that author by Googling; perhaps someone in the Drama Club can clarify.) In any case, Marie played her part!


Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\smithgroth_clip_clip_image018.jpgMarie, Sarah Wright and Di Davis (as John Spencer's fiancée) our junior year, and just Di and Marie our senior year, were the only women reasonably described as "young" on campus, and inevitably they must have featured in adolescent fantasies. One story that made the rounds (and found its way into the yearbook, for those who knew it) involved our late lamented classmate Kip Smith. According to the legend, Kip, who lived in the second floor suite in the Meeting House one of those years, clambered up the fire escape to see what he could see by peeping in the Sutherlands' window. I have forgotten (or never knew) the rest of the story—what if anything he may have claimed he saw, whether he got caught—and most of all, I have no idea whether the story is true, or just something Kip made up to amuse himself and the rest of us. Apocryphal or not, the story was memorialized in this "humor" photo on Kip's senior page in the yearbook.

Darrow was never actually much like Peyton Place, though sad as it is to say, some of us probably tried to imagine that it could be. Soon enough, however, we put aside such childish things and, diplomas in hand, went out into the real world to live the rest of our lives. In 1968, after missing being in touch with so many friends, I started the class newsletter, and invited former faculty to contribute. Don and Marie were among our most frequent participants. One of them would write practically every year, and often they would pass on news of other former faculty as well as their own.

The Sutherlands, who had married in 1958, met in the DC area, where after earning her MA at the U of Chicago in 1951, Marie worked in counterintelligence for the CIA(!) They spent most of Don's Army hitch in Germany ("an 18-month honeymoon," Marie calls it), then came to Darrow. They loved the Berkshires but left in 1964, mostly because they wanted to adopt children and prospects were better in urban areas. When our first newsletter came out in 1968, they were living in Bethesda, MD. Marie's mother and sister, Anna, lived nearby and Don taught for a couple of years at the Landon School. But in 1966 he changed careers and in '68 was working for the Naval Intelligence Service, and pursuing a masters degree in education. They had adopted a baby girl, Janet, in June of '66 and she was now a toddler. Marie was enjoying motherhood, Don joked that he even cracked a smile now and then, and they were looking forward to adopting a baby boy and moving into a larger house in the next few months.

By the following year they had done those things. Mark joined the family in February '69, and their new home was in Rockville. Don described life as "more exciting and noisier," and in what became an almost annual event, passed on news of the Nunleys, Durfees, Jolines, Des, Ron the VV's, Brodheads, Coach, and other Darrow friends, explaining that they made a trip to the Berkshires every summer if possible. Two years later, Janet and Mark were "giving Marie a merry chase around the house and neighborhood" but she wasn't complaining. Don had quit working for the Navy (too many rules and restrictions), was then working for an NGO, the National Civil Service League. It involved a lot of travel, and they were trying to figure out what comes next. In an early sign of a lifelong pattern, they hoped very much that they could attend our 10th reunion at Darrow, but when the time came, it didn't work out.

Marie wrote in 1973, with more news from their latest trip back to Darrow. Don had been laid off from his job at the NCSL and had landed a position with the Manpower Administration of the US Department of Labor, running some of their job training and office management programs. This job also required him to travel a lot, not much fun. Janet was in first grade, Mark in nursery school, and Marie was heading up a Bluebird troop—15 6-year-old junior Campfire Girls. She quipped that "a houseful of kids on a rainy day tests my naturally sweet and even temperament—which you no doubt recall from our library days." (Well, actually, yeah.) They were happy, enjoying hiking and picnicking in nearby mountains in the summer, and a Welsh Corgi named Corky had joined the family.

That same newsletter presented the news that they were moving to Illinois, where the Feds were about to transfer Don. Marie quipped, "In 3 years we'll probably be back in DC." (Turns out Yogi was right about predicting, among other things.) A Christmas card that year said they were settled in Glen Ellyn and would look up Loomis and Lapp (then our '62 residents in the Chicago area) "soon."

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\scan0259.jpgDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\scan0260.jpgOver the next several years communications fell into a routine. Life in Glen Ellyn was pretty much like suburban life anywhere, except with worse winters. As the kids grew, they both took up ice skating—Janet figure skating, Mark speed skating and hockey. Each year Don seemed to learn anew that "both of them can skate circles around me." They began sending an annual Christmas newsletter (usually in January or February), sometimes allegedly written by Corky. Don seemed to think that pretending to be a dog allowed him to tell his corniest jokes (well, who knows what he thought, I can only report what he did, sort of like a friend of mine who will say anything outrageous, as long as she says it with a French accent.) Don's job was stable, though it found him too often out of town. Marie was getting involved in community activities—the PTA, a fresh-air fund for inner city kids, the school board.

In 1976 these photos appeared in the '62 newsletter. For reasons of space or artistic license I cropped them all into a collage. These were taken on an outing at an Illinois state park in summer '75.

Life went on like that for several more years. Everything was good, things were moving forward, busy, with occasional news of Darrow colleagues and unremitting good intentions about a rendezvous with Chicago-area '62 alumni. Our 15th reunion came and went; they wanted to come but things were "too hectic at the office." They did get to the Berkshires at times and fed us much news of former faculty. 1978 proved a tough year: By the end of a long, icy winter, Don was laid up with a bad back, Mark had torn a knee ligament that ended his hockey season, Janet had sprained her ankles several times and broken a foot, and Marie had broken an ankle. Corky apparently was the only one unscathed, and for all I know was shopping for groceries and driving them to medical appointments. Time passed, everyone healed, spring arrived, things improved.

The kids kept growing, and academic and extracurricular achievements were noted with pride in their parents' letters: (vocal) music and journalism for the high school paper for Janet, student council, science fair projects and budding entrepreneurial ventures for Mark. Don still had the same job (more responsibility, more headaches, still a lot of travel) and with the kids in school now, Marie was taking courses in computer science, looking to get back into the job market. "I've never worked so hard and understood so little," she admitted. They'd found a favorite summer vacation spot in Wisconsin.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\Illinois Mini-Reunion, August 21 1980.JPGIn 1980, I drove across the country to visit my parents in New Mexico, arranged a reunion with our Colorado contingent in Denver, and passed through Illinois en route back to New York. Never one to pass up a free room and a meal, I stopped to visit Pete and Lynn Loomis in their home "out in the cornfields northwest of Chicago," as I described it in the newsletter, and they invited Don and Marie to join us for dinner. We had a fun evening of "whatever happened to.…?" and "remember when….?" and I got a few pictures. It was hard to believe it had been 18 years since we'd seen each other, and we all still felt (and looked) very much "in our prime!"

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\scan0324.jpgDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Sutherland\Photos\scan0323.jpgDon had the same job, too many hours, too much travel. He and Marie said he was "working his ass off," and she'd rather have less money and more of him. Don agreed but worried about paying for the kids' college educations. Marie was still taking her computer courses and found it frustrating how long it was taking. They had had a big family reunion (13 people) in Glen Ellyn that July, and then spent Thanksgiving visiting Marie's family in DC.


The '80s slipped past in a series of holiday newsletters and occasional phone contacts (I used to do Darrow telethons). Don's work came to involve less travel, more pushing papers. His department endured big layoffs under Reagan, but he had seniority (and it appears, valued skills) and stayed on. Marie finished her courses and had a series of jobs in the now-important specialty of office computer systems. The kids advanced through high school and honed their journalism, hockey and mechanical skills. They traveled to see family often, and Don's father, now living in Florida, was inducted into the Water Skiing Hall of Fame (for his long years of service as treasurer of the AWSA). Despite avowed intentions when we met in 1980, they did not make it to our 20th reunion, but in 1983 they had an extended trip out west, hitting Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Yosemite and Carmel. The Durfees visited them in Glen Ellyn.
This photo from that visit by the Durfees (on their way home from one of Horton's army reunions in Colorado) includes Marie (left), Janet and Mark (in the center, in front of Jean Durfee). I believe Don was behind the camera.

In the 1986 holiday letter, a new voice, Kerri, Corky's successor, assumed authorship. Both kids were now in college. Janet was at St. Norbert, in Green Bay (the Packers held their training camp on campus); she was majoring in journalism and spending summer taking advantage of the team's presence to sharpen her skills as a sports reporter. Mark was now a freshman at Dayton, planning to major in business. Marie was working at a firm that developed software for big banks, and they all were  mourning the loss of her mother, who passed away that summer at either 92 or 93 (no one was exactly sure). Don, who never seemed to tire of learning, was taking evening accounting courses.

I have a note from Don dated July 1987 that presents a mystery. In the spring of that year I'd been in touch with Don and Marie about our 25th reunion, which as usual they hoped very much to attend, but were not sure they'd make it. Don had been calling other former faculty, though, and was encouraged that quite a few would turn out. In 1987, Sharon and our daughter Sarah, then 2, came to the reunion with me, and I spent most of the time chasing a toddler around, so I took almost no photos of that reunion. Don's letter sounds like he (but not Marie) indeed made it, saying "it was wonderful…to see so many after so many, many years." He also appended a note to their holiday letter at the end of the year, affirming that he attended and had a great time. In July he said "I have enclosed some pictures of you jocks during the softball game." The mystery is, I don't have those photos, I can't find them anywhere, and I have no memory of seeing Don at the reunion. There was no class newsletter by 1987 (other parts of my life had crowded that out), but I did write up a reunion report, posted on our class web site. I used only one of my own photos (showing a bunch of us milling around outside the chapel) and about a dozen taken from the school's publication, a supplement to the Peg Board. The school pictures show a bunch of former faculty—Mahnken, Nunley, Durfee, Joline, Van Vorst, McCracken—but Don is not in any of them, as far as I can tell. So, while Don said he was there, in his letters, I have no other concrete evidence. My usual steel-trap memory draws a blank on this. I am hoping someone, somewhere may have a photo or two of Don at our 25th, and if so, will share it so we can add it to this remembrance.

As the '80s drew to a close, the Sutherlands transitioned into the empty-nester phase. Janet finished college, having been editor of the school paper, president of her sorority and an intern at a TV station in Green Bay. Next thing you knew, she was working at WJOL in Joliet, and getting her own apartment. Mark had dropped out of college, spent some time running the auto parts department at a vocational high school, and soon decided to go into Chicago real estate, aiming to "follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump" (uh-oh); soon enough he also had his own apartment in the city. Don was still working on becoming an accountant, while Marie had quickly determined she didn't like the corporate world and became a teacher's aide (at the same vocational school where Mark worked), teaching computer science, which she found much more satisfying. They lost Don's father at 89, in 1988, and Marie's sister Anna eventually came to live in Glen Ellyn.

None of the holiday letters included photos, sad to say. Perhaps they stopped sending out those letters (the last one "authored by Kerri" was in 1993, when the dog was 16), or perhaps I fell off the mailing list, but over a long period I had only sporadic news from Don and Marie. Sometime around 1990, the world began to shift from hard copy to electronic communications, and most of our contacts after that were emails, which I generally did not print and save. There are thus many gaps in my records, but I can recount some highlights.

Janet's career as a journalist flourished, and at one point, on the courthouse beat, she was covering the arson trial of the man who owned the station where she worked(!) Years of skating had left her with damaged knees, requiring repeated surgery, eventually a bone graft and more or less full recovery. Mark was working his way up in Chicago real estate, rehabbing old houses and buying, upgrading and flipping apartment buildings, while managing a small construction company. The best "Mark story" involved his avocation, fishing. He and a friend were in Michigan, caught a huge (10-lb) trout. While they were celebrating and checking to see if it was a record, the authorities saw his fishing license had expired. The fine was $150, no checks or credit cards accepted. They did not have the cash, so they spent the night in jail until Dad could drive up and bail them out. But the whole family, including Don's brother Bob and sister-in-law and their kids, visiting for the holidays, enjoyed eating that very expensive fish.

Don finally retired from the DoL in 2001. Not quite ready to stop working altogether, he put his talents and experience to use consulting part-time with the US EPA, which he did for another 6+ years. Marie had by then been devoting much of her energy to local community service organizations; she was president of the board of the Glen Ellyn food pantry, on the board of a youth  and counseling service, and helping with computers at a shelter for women operated by a local church. Don was on the board of that shelter and was raising money for world hunger relief in his "spare" time. 

Janet's career took her to Columbus, Ohio, where she lived for several years. In 2004 she suffered a ruptured aneurysm in her brain, and endured a long, slow recovery. She returned to the Chicago area (she was renting an apartment in one of Mark's buildings!) and was working for the Sun-Times, now on the business-development side rather than the reportorial side. The family become active in the support network/foundation for brain aneurysm survivors. In 2007, Mark was married to Elena, a Russian native, naturalized citizen and radiology technician. Later on, he mused "I got it right the third time," (quoted by his father), meaning we never met the first two wives. His real-estate business was growing and still exciting—in 2007 he was planning to build a 626-room hotel—but the signs of a bursting bubble and the coming 2008 recession were looming.

The big event of 2008 was a cruise down the St. Lawrence, from Montreal to Boston, with the whole family (13 strong) aboard, to celebrate Don and Marie's 50th wedding anniversary. Back at home in Glen Ellyn, both were now teaching as volunteers at St. Gregory's, an independent,  K-8 boys school for low-income kids, affiliated with an Episcopal church in Chicago, while continuing with their other community service activities.

Christmas of 2008 brought news that Mark and Elena had a new baby, Ella Marie, Don and Marie's first grandchild. Janet had been "downsized" as the Sun-Times went through the throes afflicting most of print journalism, but quickly found a job back in radio, with Westwood 1, managing affiliate sales. Marie had "retired" from St. Gregory's (where she'd been assisting in the development office) to spend time babysitting Ella. In 2009, Don timed a trip to New England such that he attended Alumni Weekend at Darrow, but that was an off-year for us (I was not there myself) so we didn't get to see him.

Tidbits garnered from emails, from 2012 through just recently: Despite all good intentions and hopes, Don & Marie could not make it to our 50th reunion, or our 51st, or 55th. Each time I sent out a general news item (usually an obituary!) Don would respond with a personal anecdote or two about people he knew. His facts were not always the most precise but he always had very nice things to say, and many of those things can be found in the various memorials on our web site. I had the fun of informing Don (not once but twice!) that hackers had stolen his email address—I got those, "Help! I am traveling in Ukraine/Manila and I got mugged! I'm stuck in a hotel with no money, no credit cards, no way to pay my bill! Please wire me some cash!!" scams, supposedly from Don. Ah, those Russian hackers, busy selling their stolen booty. (More innocent times, eh?)

Taking the broader view, if you don't count a broken ankle or ruptured disk here and there, Don and Marie had a long run of pretty excellent health. But nothing good lasts forever, and in the spring of 2017, I got the worst kind of news from Don. Explaining why they wouldn't make it to the 55th, he said he was "recovering from a serious car accident that includes broken vertebrae and Marie is fighting lung cancer, which she contracted despite in spite of never smoking a day in her life." I told them to hang in there (what else can you say), he replied that we should have a great reunion and "focus on the good old days." In October that year, he sent more encouraging news—Marie's cancer had responded well to treatment, she was much better, receiving Terceva, a drug designed to fight tumors with specific genetic traits hers happened to have. But he also mentioned that he himself now had bladder cancer and had just started chemo and radiation treatment. "Cancer must be catching," he mused darkly.

Two years later, Don succumbed to his cancer, about a month shy of his 86th birthday. Marie seems to have beaten hers, at least as those things go, and she is adjusting to life without Don, after 60 years together. Still showing that "naturally sweet and even temperament," she is relishing all the happy memories, arranging memorials, and carrying on as family matriarch. Marie and I touched base as I was finishing up this memorial, and she saw nothing to change in it, but she updated us on the family: Mark and Elena had a second daughter, Maya, who is now 8 (Ella is 10), and Janet was married in June 2017 to Kevin Madden, a nurse. They've bought a home in the western Chicago suburbs, not far from Marie.

Despite having lived hundreds of miles away from most of us for five decades, Don and Marie stayed closely tied to our class and were part of our Darrow "family." His departure leaves a big gap. We'll remember an effective and patient instructor, a strong, mostly silent(!), gentle, kind and supportive teacher, coach and friend, who was certainly there for me when I needed him, and who almost always had a kind word to contribute about anyone we all knew. A long life well lived, a 60-year partnership with the girl of his dreams, two great kids, a couple of grandkids, a long career in  government service, decades of contributions to his community. Au revoir, Don, we are privileged to have known you.


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