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Bill Sutherlands final voyage

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ALIVE HOSPICE Alive Hospice is a nonprofit organization that provides compassionate end-of-life care and bereavement support in 12 Middle Tennessee counties (Bedford, Cannon, Cheatham, Coffee, Davidson, DeKalb, Dickson, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson). Founded in 1975, Alive Hospice provides care in patients’ homes; in its three inpatient facilities; at area hospitals; and independent-living, assisted-living and long-term care facilities. For more information, call 327-1085 or toll-free 1-800-327-1085, or visit By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson PostA month before his death, Bill Sutherland took his last ride in a sailboat, a rite of passage that proved physical, emotional and spiritual.The two-hour sail that occurred March 24 on Old Hickory Lake came through the service of Alive Hospice and kindness of several members of the Harbor Island Yacht Club, which is located in the northwest corner of Wilson County.“What really brought us together was his sailing,” said Alive Hospice Chaplain Gene Lovelace about Sutherland, who died in April at age 80 of colon cancer. “He was a very independent man. He felt himself becoming a real burden to the joy of his life, his wife, Kathy, and his family. He was very frustrated at how this illness limited him. One day he started talking: ‘This is not worth it. I see no reason for me to live. I wish that this would just end. I’m not ready to go, but this is not living.’“Medically, we saw days in his life that were not quality, … but in our mind we saw he had time left. He was very frustrated and wanted to give up. I said, ‘Bill, how can you die and not go sailing on my sailboat?’ And he said, ‘That’s a fine question.’ I told him, ‘It seems like to me that is something we need to accomplish.’ He said, ‘Can we do that?’”Englishman falls for Nashville“We came here in 1977 (from the Northeast). We moved away because of the weather. He was in construction,” said Kathy Sutherland, who was married to Bill for 42 years. “We put some clothes in our Volkswagen van, began driving, and the van broke down in Nashville. We never regretted staying here.”Born William Sutherland, in Ardwick, Manchester, England in 1930, Bill became a master bricklayer. After obtaining his green card, he sailed to the U.S. on the Sylvania, and arrived at New York City Harbor in November 1965 with $500 in his pocket. On March 31, 1967, he met Kathy in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., and they wed the following December. He became an American citizen in 1976, and the couple became Nashvillians the next year.Bill had many interests. He was an avid student of the World War I era and could make all sorts of things, from furniture and glass sculptures of crosses and cactus to wood baskets, whirligigs, bookcases and bars. As a cook, he was proud of his grilled whole turkey stuffed with chicken and sausage, his Yorkshire pudding and fresh homemade bread. A voracious reader, Bill possessed a remarkable memory for the historical as well as the trivial. He was a poet and often left poems for his bride-to-be on the windscreen of her car when they were courting. He also penned humorous limericks for family and friends. Friends and kin knew him as an honest bloke, a man of integrity, a faithful friend and husband. Diagnosed with stage four colon cancer on May 9, 2008, Bill lived his final five months at home. At the time of his death at 6:50 p.m., April 27, Kathy and Monica, his sister-in-law, were holding his hands.   Hospice enters the picture“Bill’s oncologist, Dr. William Penley, recommended Alive Hospice," Kathy said. “There was nothing more that could be done for him in terms of chemo or treatment. He didn’t take any curative treatments. The doctor asked, ‘Would you like for me to get in touch with hospice?’”Thus, the team of Chaplain Lovelace, social worker Darrell Boyd and Nurse Stella Floyd entered the lives of the Sutherland family.“He was very skeptical of even the idea of a chaplain,” Lovelace recalled. “His first comment was, ‘So, what do you do?’ in his heavy English accent. He loved to keep people a little off guard. I said, ‘What I do is up to you. I show up.’ He just started laughing, ‘That’s not what I expected from a chaplain.’ ‘My job is to help you walk the walk you want to walk,” I told him, and he liked that.“He saw a new person to help him explore and look at the own edges of his life and call him to question,” continued Lovelace, 55, formerly a congregational minister but who has been with Alive Hospice for 15 years and has been an adjunct professor in Belmont University’s school of religion for the past 17 years. “He would test my theology and I would test his theology. We had a wonderful relationship where we could push each other to the edge, and both grow as we walked down the road together.”Lovelace and Sutherland hit it off, and the chaplain’s visits became a weekly occurrence. The two found they had similar passions in motorcycles and sailing. And so, Lovelace was inspired to offer Bill a boat ride on Old Hickory Lake.The scheme had to be greenlighted by Lovelace’s boss as well as Bill’s family. All agreed. Then a plan had to be made that calculated Bill’s physical state and the early spring weather.“Much like the movie ‘The Bucket List’ (where two dying men pursue a list of things they wished to experience before the end of life), this became on Bill’s bucket list,” Lovelace said. “This and taking us all out to a liver luncheon. He and I had a fondness for liver and onions. He wanted us to go with him to a liver luncheon, just one of the things he wanted to accomplish, but this sailing was a big deal. He loved the water and loved sailing. It was obvious in the smile on his face while he walked down the pier. In the photos, the smile on his face tells the whole story—what this gift meant to this man’s life.”       Lovelace, a member of the Harbor Island Yacht Club, invited three Wilson County members of the club to assist or greet the Sutherlands. Dock Fielder volunteered his boat, while Bob Brewington and Roger Maxwell were there to welcome them to the harbor. At 2 p.m. March 24, Bill, Kathy, and Bill’s nephew, Chris, and Lovelace boarded the sailboat with skipper Fielder. A “paparazzi boat” tagged along so that Alive Hospice media representative Jared Porter could document the voyage with photos.Kathy reflected on the journey as one of incredible joy and appreciation.“Bill soaked it in, absolutely loved it. He had to be helped onto the boat. Gene and Dock raised sail and after that gave Bill an opportunity to hold the tiller. We had a nice wind, not strong, not too weak. We had some lovely skies. It was a perfect day, couldn’t have been better,” Kathy recalled.“It was a deep enjoyment that you could see in his face. He just savored every moment. He knew it wouldn’t happen again. He was amazed and delighted so many people came out.“We were together on the water,” she said with her voice giving way to tears. “He was so appreciative. He loved the sky. We looked at the birds. It was just wonderful. He said it was fantastic. There was the suggestion, the promise was made, and then it was kept.”Safe passage into the harbor“We turned around to come back, and I asked Bill to change position with an idea that Dock just might turn the helm over to him,” recounted Lovelace, about the voyage as it was winding down.“There is a stone wall underwater on the left and right side of the channel as you approach the harbor, and you have to be careful or you will get hung up on this wall. The entrance may be 50 feet wide. So we talked about it, and Bill asked about the channel markers, and we told him about the challenge to sail by sail all the way into the harbor. About that time, Dock grabbed Bill’s hand and put it on the tiller to take over the ship.“Bill gets a big smile on his face and turns into the wind so the boat starts to heel over, and he just cackles because he is able to control the boat. It’s a pretty big boat, about 28 feet long and 10 feet wide. Then we continued to have the conversation about sailing into the harbor or dropping the sail and motoring in.“About 15 minutes away from the harbor, Bill takes Kathy’s hand and places it on the tiller and gives control to her. Bill’s smile gets even bigger as Kathy takes control of the ship. As she is sailing, she says, ‘I’m not sure if I’m good enough to take this into the harbor,’ and Bill says, ‘Sure you can do it.’“Sure enough, Kathy was able to turn the boat at our instructions and took the boat into the harbor, point into the wind, and we dropped the sails. That is the symbol of this story,” said Lovelace, “that one man accepts the fact that his days are very limited, and now he can turn over the helm to the love of his life knowing, while there are dark days ahead, she can navigate them.” Smiles and tears flowWhat motivated Fielder to reach over and put Bill’s hand on the tiller?“It just seemed like it would be one last time maybe that he can have control of the situation. I wanted to let him be the captain,” Fielder said. “He looked at me like he was somewhat surprised, but I could see gratitude in his eyes and a big smile came on his face.”  And Fielder’s reaction when he saw Bill take his wife’s hand and place it on the tiller?“It was just like he was passing everything—life, their memories—on down to her, and she must have felt the same way because that was when tears started flowing down her cheeks.”“I tell people, in this job you never know who you’re going to meet from day to day, and what experiences you are going to have,” said Porter, media relations coordinator and publications editor for Alive Hospice, who witnessed the sail closely from another boat and through the lens of his camera. “It gives me hope for my family and my friends for later in life, and for me when my time comes. Moments like these are purely uplifting. That may be the thing that people don’t expect with hospice care. Yes, there are a lot of tears and sadness, but there’s a lot of joy, too. I will never forget his smile. The man that I saw was a very content man at peace with where he was in his life, and it was a wonderful lesson for me.”  Kathy Sutherland seconds the notion that many people don’t know the bigger picture of what Alive Hospice offers to both the dying as well as the living.“They provided Bill a comfort, not only on a physical level but on a spiritual level. They’re tremendous people. Just right from the very beginning, every single person who came to the house was sensitive and definitely helped us out,” said Kathy, who will never forget her mate’s final earthly voyage before his journey into eternity.Ken Beck may be contacted at
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