An enormous spirit not to be forgotten

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A joyful, larger-than-life, friend to all is how I will forever think of Dick Sutherland.

Six brothers I have been blessed to know, a wild and wonderful mix of sugar and spice, ornery and nice. This band of brothers, and all of us who are lucky to have been married into or born into this great crew, have kept the laughter and the big-hearted kindnesses going, always growing, forever memorable.

In the very early days of being married to Doug, I quickly learned that my brother-in-law Dick was the brother everyone wished they had. A phone call from him, voice disguised, often brought me to tears from laughing so hard.

He might show up at my newspaper office, in sheriff’s uniform, and play pranks on me, turning a tense workday into one filled with gales of laughter. His timing was impeccable, seeming to know when needed.

He could breeze in and the entire atmosphere lifted, his joyful persona reaching even the dourest individuals. In fact, he likely wasn’t going to leave until the grouchiest person in the place had at least cracked a smile.

At the end of a long day of work, I might find a ticket on my windshield, “charging” me with some outlandish broken code of conduct. I would smile my whole way home.

He made my life better in dozens of immeasurable ways, and I knew I was lucky to have him in my corner, always. Those blessed to know him would say the same.

We all pitched in to help with the election campaign when Dick decided to run for Huron County Sheriff in 1989. He didn’t really need our help. It has been said he was the highest vote-getter in the county throughout his decades as sheriff. He was also the first Independent to have ever won a sheriff’s seat in the state of Ohio. “I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat. I’m an American,” he said when asked which ticket he was running on.

Many said that would hurt him. He proved otherwise.

As sheriff, his twin brother Bob was his chief deputy. Together they worked some remarkable cases, including one which put Dick in People magazine and televised on Dr. Phil, after finding foster children forced to live much of their lives in cages. His tears of anguish and compassion made this beloved guy even more loved.

Dressed in jeans and plain shirt to help a farm family fighting extreme harassment by a neighbor, Dick once jumped on the flatbed wagon to load hay bales in their field where confrontations had taken place.

At the very last minute, something prompted him to put on a kevlar vest, which he almost never wore, especially on a hot, summer day. He climbed on the wagon, stacking bales. As the neighbor man approached and then attacked Dick with a knife, he tried to reason him back to calm. Dick’s hand was seriously injured as he tried to thwart escalating aggression.

His twin brother Bob, working miles away, suddenly had a feeling wash over him that Dick was in danger. A call to dispatch pointed Bob to the farm. By this time, Dick was being stabbed repeatedly in the chest. Though battered and bruised, the kevlar vest saved his life, and Bob arrived in time to intervene and make an arrest. This is just one of many stories of their shared intuition.

Dick built friendships with people of all ages, varied walks of life. Others in public service and law enforcement respected and enjoyed working with him, his common sense approach, hard work and determination to accomplish a job proving to be a beacon in an often dark world.

I once asked him if he felt jaded, dealing with such stressful, difficult cases. He looked deep in thought, and I expected a rare serious response. “Jaded … hum me a few bars and I’ll see if I know that one!” Bob and Dick were known to burst into song, in perfect harmony, mostly to bring laughter and levity with silly lyrics thrown in. When someone asked me in their presence how in the world I could tell them apart, each quickly answered, “I’m the good-looking one!”

The twins served their country, three years overseas, and later their county, retiring in 2009 after a long and decorated career. When Bob died in 2016, so many officers from far and wide came to pay their respects, honor guards standing by throughout the long memorial.

Dick turned to me, pulling me close, tears flowing. “When it’s my time to go, I don’t want a bit of this. Every sheriff’s department and police department in the state is too busy for this and I know it. You hear me? Don’t let them do it.”

Dick died July 22, and it still seems impossible to imagine our world without him in it. Such an enormous spirit, his bright light will remain, carried forward by those of us who will forever love him dearly.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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