Friends, family members and government officials greeted Monday’s release of hostages Thomas M. Sutherland and Terry Waite with restraint, their obvious joy tempered by the caution bred by previous false alarms and of circumstances surrounding the newfound freedom for the American college professor and the Anglican cleric.
The Sutherland family, for example, was mourning the death of the Scottish-born professor’s father-in-law, William Murray, when they learned of the release.
“We were in the middle of plans” for the funeral for Murray, who had acted as the family spokesman during most of the hostage ordeal, Sutherland’s daughter, Katherine (Kit), said early Monday outside her home in Ft. Collins, Colo. “We’re torn between two emotions right now. . . .”
Murray, 88, was the father of Sutherland’s wife, Jean. He died Saturday of cancer.
Jean Sutherland, who has continued to teach at the American University of Beirut, was returning to her family home in Ames, Iowa, for Thursday’s funeral when State Department officials caught up with her at the airport in Newark, N.J., bringing word of her husband’s impending release.
She decided to fly to Germany for a reunion with her husband, family members said. Two of the three Sutherland daughters--Kit, 28, and Joan, 25, who lives in Gresham, Ore.--are to join in that reunion.
Sutherland’s other daughter, Ann, is pregnant and unable to travel. She lives in Berkeley, Calif., with husband Ray Keller and their 3-year-old daughter, Simone. Sutherland, who has been held captive since June 9, 1985, has never seen his granddaughter.
“She’s been waiting for this for six years and wants to be there for him,” Ann Sutherland, 32, said of her mother.
The Sutherlands had reacted with reserve when initial reports began to circulate of their father’s release. They had gone through previous false alarms. But by late morning, Sutherland’s scattered family members--including his five brothers and sisters who live in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was born--were convinced by State Department officials and media reports that he was free.
Alice Murray, who is mourning her husband, rejoiced at the news that her son-in-law is free. “I think the good is overshadowing the sorrow,” she said in a telephone interview from Iowa. “We must think about the future and be happy. I feel that my husband would be just as elated and he would want us to celebrate. So, although there are mixed emotions, it is for Tom that we must think now.”
Ann Sutherland said that the family has talked about what to do when their father returns: “We’ve talked about a lot of different plans. I know there will be lots of champagne.”
But it is possible that her father would want to attend to family matters first by paying his respects to his late father-in-law. Or, since “he has brothers and sisters in Scotland, maybe he’ll make a trip out there first.”
In Beirut, the news that Sutherland had been freed by his kidnapers swept the American University campus like a fresh sea breeze, and no one welcomed it more than Shafik Kanaan.
Kanaan, a university chauffeur for 39 years, drove Sutherland from the airport on the day he was abducted more than six years ago. He recalled asking if they should take a soldier from the airport along for security. No, Sutherland said. Kanaan now thinks that Sutherland was right. Resistance could have been fatal.
The driver, in his late 50s, said of the news: “I’m happy, very happy. And I hope he’ll come back. He was such a decent man.”
Announcement of the release, delivered in an unusually terse communique from the kidnapers, spread quickly across the campus. “Good! Excellent!” exclaimed Prof. Musa Nimah, who taught under Sutherland when the American was dean of the school of agriculture. “That’s the best news I’ve heard in my life.”
In Britain, where church bells pealed in celebration, Waite’s release also prompted great cheer. Prime Minister John Major said he was “absolutely delighted” by the news that Waite and Sutherland were freed. “We have waited five years for this,” Major said. “It must have been a long and agonizing period both for Terry Waite and for all those who know him, his family and friends.”
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, now Lord Robert Runcie, for whom Waite worked, said he was “delighted and thrilled” that his aide was released and said his work for the Church of England had prepared him for his ordeal.
Runcie admitted Monday that his former assistant’s work in the Middle East was “clouded” by the Iran-Contra scandal, to which Waite’s name was linked via former Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a White House national security aide.
Times staff writer William Tuohy in London, special correspondent Marilyn Raschka in Beirut and researcher Tracy Shryer in Chicago contributed to this story.