Roderick Atkins Suthers
February 2, 1937 – February 24, 2019
Roderick Atkins Suthers, age 82, of Bloomington died Sunday afternoon (02/24/2019) surrounded by family. Born February 2, 1937 in Columbus, Ohio, he was the son of Albert Edward and Ruth “Marie” (Atkins) Suthers. Raised in Delaware, Ohio, Rod developed a love for nature, at an early age. He was an Eagle Scout in high school, and spent time in Northern Ontario at a family cabin built by his father in 1927, a tradition that he was able to share and pass along to his children and grandchildren. At a young age, he became interested in birds and would often go birding in the morning before school. He began doing field work for a college professor while still in high school, leading field biology studies for the professor’s students. After high school he spent a year travelling abroad in Australia, where his father had grown up. A Zoology major in college, he graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and then attended graduate school at Harvard University where he intended to study bird navigation. However, due to the uncooperative nature of Boston’s weather, he shifted his focus to echolocation in bats. He completed a Ph.D. at Harvard University under advisors Ernst Mayr, Donald R. Griffin and Edward O. Wilson. He finished a year long post-doc at Harvard, before joining the faculty at Indiana University in 1965. Rod was a Professor Emeritus of Cellular and Integrative Physiology in the Medical Sciences program at Indiana University’s School of Medicine where he worked for 51 years, retiring in 2016. He was Professor of Physiology and Biophysics in the School of Medicine, Professor of Neurosciences in the Program for Neural Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology, a member of the Acoustical Society of America, elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and his research was continuously funded for all 51 years by grants from the National Science Foundation and/or the National Institutes of Health. Rod authored well over one hundred publications and edited two books, Biology the Behavioral View, and Vertebrate Sound Production and Acoustic Communication. His early research dealt with echolocation and hearing in bats, and later in his career he returned to his love of birds, making distinguished contributions to the understanding of the fundamental mechanisms underlying sound production in birds. His research and collaborations with colleagues and universities took him around the world, to many countries across 6 continents, often with his family in tow. He and his family spent time in the plains of East Africa, exploring bat caves in Trinidad, and camping in a tiger reserve in India. Rod enjoyed other hobbies such as canoeing, bird watching, skiing, reading, camping and was known for his excellent, and often dry, sense of humor. He also loved spending time with his dogs. Rod is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Barbara (Braford) Suthers, of Bloomington; his son, Kris Suthers (Mariana Nagy) of Indianapolis; his daughter, Lorinda Suthers-Salbego and her husband Terran Salbego, of Chicago, Illinois; two granddaughters, Noelle and Liliana Salbego; one brother, Rev. Derwent A. Suthers of Rio Rico, Arizona; a brother-in-law, Mark Braford (Cathy McCormick) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; a sister-in-law, Ann Mappes (Terry Mappes) of Morgantown; and mother-in-law, Mabel Braford of Greenwood. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews. Rod was preceded in death by his parents and one sister in infancy. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Sycamore Land Trust, PO Box 7801, Bloomington, IN 47407 or log on to their website at sycamorelandtrust.org/donate. A Celebration of Life gathering is planned for Sunday, March 24th 2019 from 1-4pm at The Clubhouse at the Fields, 1333 Fenbrook Ln., Bloomington, IN 47401. Online condolences may be given at www.DeremiahFryeMortuary.com
Celebration of Life
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Clubhouse at the Fields
1333 Fenbrook Lane
Roderick Atkins Suthers
March 17, 2019
I learned how to be a scientist from Rod, who was willing to take a philosopher major into his lab. He was my PhD advisor from 1977 through early 1983, guiding my dissertation study of how fish-catching bats are able to track and catch moving fish. Rod’s approach was thoughtful and unconventional. He loved to solve experimental problems through the most creative of solutions. We spend many weeks devising a method to cause targets to disappear as a fish-catching bat approached. Yet it was the care of his experimental approach and his rigorous analysis of data that, I hope, stuck with me the most. He wanted his students to develop their own independent approach, but he made sure to help me when the dissertation work was most challenging. Always understated, he had a delightful, a wry sense of humor.
I was on that Chillagoe expedition with Rod that Brock Fenton describes. One night, coming back from a hike to a bat roost, our guide pulled Rod’s headlamp (attached to him) in the direction of what he thought might be lion. My advisor approached; I deferred. That’s what a good advisor does.
Rosie and I send our best wishes and our sympathies to Barbara, Kris, and Lorinda.
March 17, 2019
I have extremely fond memories of my time with Rod in Bloomington, not to mention I met my wife there! Rod and Barbara treated me as a member of the family, and Kris and Lorinda suffered through shared family outings with the eccentric British postdoc. Rod had a great and very witty sense of humor, and a hoard of entertaining stories. He was always good company, inside and outside the lab. As a scientist, Rod was driven, determined, careful and competent. He would decide he wanted to find something out and then by heck figure out a way to do it. Even though I ended up leaving science for the commercial world, his teaching and example still stand me in good stead today.
I find it difficult to believe now how much fun and excitement I had with Rod. I was lucky to have these experiences and the memories have a dreamlike aspect after so many years. In Africa, we drove alone in to the bush in a diesel Land Rover, from Harare to the Sengwa research station. When we arrived, we discovered we had a flat and the spare was padlocked to the hood. We had no key, and had just missed being marooned in the middle of Zimbabwe with a civil war going on. I then had to sweep a giant millipede out of our sleeping quarters. The horseshoe bats we had come to study resided inside a hollow giant baobab, the entrance being a hole at the base you had to crawl through, complete with fresh leopard tracks. Rod, with that twinkle in his eye, suggested that I go in first, on the basis that I was all skin and bone and not worth the eating, unlike himself (we actually sent the park ranger in first, AK-47 at the ready).
I had the time of my life working with Rod, and will forever be grateful for the opportunity. RIP.
March 16, 2019
My husband and I met in the Suthers lab in Myers Hall during the latter half of the 1980’s, as postdoc and graduate student, respectively. The legendary Dr. Roderick Suthers was Dave’s boss and my thesis advisor and therefore part of our shared history while we became friends, went on dates, and eventually got married. Our time in Bloomington coincided with the lab’s mammal-to-bird transition period; Dave studied bats and I studied birds, back in the day when multiple channels of data were recorded on large reel-to-reel tapes. Rod taught me how to build teeny-tiny devices for measuring airflow through bird tracheas and how to do the extremely delicate and challenging surgeries to install such devices. I remember him quipping that if only we were neurosurgeons we’d be rich. Rod was a prolific writer of grants and scientific papers and I’m sure he had a positive influence on my academic prose. He worked very long hours, especially during the summer bird song season, and expected his lab group members to do the same. We enjoyed meeting his wife, Barbara, and children, Kris and Lorinda, on several occasions. I believe Dave traveled to the Smokey Mountains on a camping trip with them. I seem to recall picking blueberries with the Suthers family one summer day and I know they hosted a nice farewell party for us before we moved away to Seattle in 1990. Rod always blamed his son’s interest in sports cars on Dave’s Triumph TR3. I made it back to Bloomington in 2008 and 2015 and both times Rod made sure I had a parking pass at the Atwood garage and he took me out for lunch, can you guess where? At Nick’s, of course. I’m including a photo from 2008. We miss him.
Dr. Becky Hartley, Associate Professor of Biology, Seattle University
March 10, 2019
I was part of the Chillagoe expedition that Rod led and he also joined us in the backwoods of Zimbabwe (1982) to do more work on bats -horseshoe bats and their sound production. Rod was one of the neatest people ever. Always with a twinkle in his eye …. always snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
We celebrated his birthday in 1982 at a breathtaking outlook over the Sengwa River.
Rod was a force of nature
March 7, 2019
While serving on the faculty of Medical Science program in 1980 I had the good fortune to be asked by my friend and colleague Rod Suthers to join a team of international researchers to study echolocation in the Grey Swiftlet and bats in the Australian Outback. This was something of a dream come true since from my childhood I dreamed of going there and now also to include some challenging scientific and technical efforts to discover essentials of sound production and echolocation in birds and bats. To be a part of that team including Rod and Donald Griffin, and others from the US, Canada and Australia was a truly memorable experience. This was followed in 1982 and 1984 with similar trips to Trinidad for a study of echolocation in Oilbirds. In the years following I was fortunate to continue to work with Rod and provide him with instrumentation important to his work. It is with great sadness that I must say goodbye to my friend of so many years and my thoughts, heart and mind are with Barbara, Kris, and Lorinda.
March 4, 2019
I came to IU in August 1991 to work with Rod as The Center for the Integrate Study of Animal Beahvior's first postdoc! I learned so much in Rod's lab and my love of birds developed into a passion. I met my now husband, Jim, while a postdoc here at IU. Instead of staying in research, I switched my focus to teaching in the IU Biology Department where my favorite class to teach is Ornithology! I interacted with Rod numerous times over the years and we had many conversations in the hallway about what birds were showing up and our excitement over seeing something unusual. I miss seeing Rod in the hallways, and now I will miss him on the Lake Monroe Christmas Bird Counts. I owe Rod a lot, and I wish I had taken the time to tell him.
March 4, 2019
All my condolences to Barbara and the whole family. I worked with Rod as a post doc in 2008-2009, together with Kenneth. I attached this happy picture from July 2009, we had a great diner at Barbara and Rod's home with colleagues and friends. Thanks Rod for sharing your passion on Bengalese Finches, their song will definitely remind me of you forever!
March 2, 2019
My condolences to the family! I had the honor and pleasure to work in Rod's lab from 2007 to 2010. May you rest in peace Rod and thank you for a great time in the lab! I found an old picture of me in Rod's lab from back then, unfortunately I don't have any with him in it.
February 28, 2019
As a member of Ohio Wesleyan Battlepoint Association, I would like to pay my respects to the family of Rod Suthers, a treasured member of Battlepoint. He personally made an impact on me and my family because of his love and knowledge of birds. You will be missed.
Battlepoint Association Treasurer
Kathy Comer (Wenzlau)
February 28, 2019
I am very sorry for your loss, but so very glad Rod was able to come up to Battlepoint last summer. I remember seeing him at the Ice Cream Social. We will all miss him!