Tivis Colley Sutherland: Pioneer Doctor of the Frying Pan

By Bonnie Ball


    It was perhaps the inspiration of his ancestors which endowed Tivis Colley Sutherland with the desire and the ability to love, serve, and get along with people. He first saw the light of day on February 12, 1880, on Frying Pan Creek, in what was then Buchanan Co., VA. A few months after his birth, this section of land was incorporated into the newly-formed Dickenson Co., VA, which led Tivis' grandfather to remark that he had lived in three different counties, Russell, Buchanan, and Dickenson, without ever moving. Tivis' parents were Joshua price and Isabelle Counts Sutherland, and his paternal grandparents were William and Sylvia Counts Sutherland. One paternal ancestor, James Sutherland, had immigrated to Virginia in the late Eighteenth Century, settling in Bedford Co. Tivis had eight brothers and sisters, only three of whom lived to maturity: Lydia, who married John Wright in 1900; May, who married Garland B. Owens in 1909; and Joshua Hoge Tyler, who was to become one of his state's leading educators and who married Emma B. Chase.
    Tivis grew up in the Frying Pan area as a normal, active boy with a yen for adventure and fun. His younger brother, J. H. T., and his cousin, Elihu Jasper Sutherland, were especially fond of relating stories about Tiv's boyhood. One of their favorite tales had to do with a three-year-old Tiv and a mythical bear. One day, his grandmother, who lived about a mile away, came to visit. Tiv's mother seemed concerned about his habit of running off from the house, and rambling around in the neighboring woods. His grandmother, hoping to discourage his wanderlust, said to him, "Tiv, you shouldn't do that. There're lots of varmints in the woods that could catch and eat you. As I crossed the walk-log today, I saw a big, black bear in the laurels, and it looked mighty hungry."
    As the two women talked and went about the household chores, they suddenly missed Tivis. They called and called but received no answer. They went in search of him, and finally located him near the end of the walk-log, a quarter of a mile upstream. His frantic mother called to him, "Tiv, what on earth are you doing away up here in the woods?"
    "I'm hunting for Granny's black bear, Maw," came the answer. Then, turning to his grandmother, he inquired eagerly, "Granny, which way did the bear go?"
    Judge Elihu Jasper Sutherland has recorded another boyhood anecdote about his colorful cousin:
    Occasionally Tivis would come up to my grandfather's home, where I also lived - at what is now called Fair View - to help us with the farm work. Grandpa Billy usually supervised out work. One day, when Tivis was about sixteen, he came up to work in the hayfield. Grandpa asked him if he could use a scythe, and Tivis assured him that he was an experienced mower. He was given a scythe and was told where to mow along the top of a little ridge. Then Grandpa went to other tasks for about thirty minutes.
    When he returned to Tivis' job, he stopped and watched for a few minutes. At every sweep of the scythe, Tivis dug the end of the implement into the ground. Grandpa stood this unorthodox method of mowing as long as he could and then roared at Tivis:
    "I thought you said you could mow! A baby could do better'n you're doin.! What makes y' stick th' scythe blade in the ground?"
    Tiv kept on mowing, and, casually, looking back over his shoulder, said in a mischievous tone: "I'm tryin' t' smooth your hayfield, Grandpa. It's awfully rough!"
    Tivis had an unusually strong love for horses. He lived about a quarter mile below the Sulphur Springs Baptist Church on Frying Pan, and he liked to ride to the monthly meetings. He had a spirited, gaited horse which he liked to show off to his admiring neighbors. During most of the summer, the horse was kept in a pasture on the "ridge field", about a half-mile from his home. On Sundays, Tiv would take the bridle and climb the steep path to the hill to catch his horse, sometimes after a merry chase, and then lead him down a narrow, crooked path to the barn where he saddled him.
    He would then put on his Sunday clothes, climb into the saddle, and canter up the road to the church, just about at the time when the opening song would start. The crowd would line up to watch him put his horse through its gaits as he passed the church on his way to the hitching tree. At the end of services, he would mount his steed and prance back past the crowd. His cousin, E. J., once remarked, "He sure loved to ride his horse, and would walk a mile to ride a half."
    As a boy, Tivis attended Sulphur Springs school on Frying Pan Creek. One fall, when he was home on a short vacation from medical school, he visited his old school, and, as was customary, he was asked to address the students. In a brief, friendly discourse, he expressed his pleasure at being back at his old school and at being with the youngsters. He then proceeded to give them some advice as to how to become better citizens, stressing their need to avoid the use of tobacco, alcohol, and profane language. At this point, he noticed that some boys were giggling on the back seats. Pointing his finger at them in pretended anger, he said: "Boys, I know why you are laughing. What I am saying to you is 'Do as I say - not as I do.'"
    After completing his local schooling, Tivis attended a normal school in Fountain City, TN. Upon completion of his work there, he taught school in Dickenson County and turned down an offer of a job as principal in Hominy, OK. It was during this time that he was involved in one of his last boyish episodes before he turned to more serious work. Timber operators were cutting great quantities of poplar logs, which they floated down Frying Pan Creek, through the Breaks of the Cumberlands, and into Kentucky where they were sawed into lumber at mills on the Big Sandy and the Ohio. The floating was done when the streams were swollen with rains and snows in the springtime. Some of the more adventurous boys liked to jump onto the floating logs and see how long they could ride them. One March day, Tivis' cousin, Kilgore Sutherland, was visiting him. The spring tide was on, and long lines of poplar logs were whirling down the Frying Pan. In search of excitement, the boys dared one another to a contest in log-riding. They jumped on separate logs and rode them far downstream. As they turned a curve, they saw that other logs had become jammed at a narrow place in the creek ahead of them, piling up for a hundred yards or more upstream. As they approached the log jam, Kilgore jumped off his log, but Tivis decided to win the contest by riding into the jam. He was soon knocked off his log by the impact of colliding logs and was pulled under the log-jam in deep water. In a short time, however, his head popped up in the mass of logs fifty feet below the middle of the jam. In his excitement and great relief, Kilgore could think of only one thing to say: "Tiv where's y'r hat?"
    In 1903, an uncle, Noah T. Counts, began study at the Medical College of Virginia as did a cousin, Jesse Columbus Sutherland. Their experiences inspired Tivis, who returned with them to medical school the following year. When Tivis completed medical school the following year, he returned to Frying Pan where he purchased a horse for $180 and opened an office. His first patient was his cousin, Lee Sutherland, of Tiny.
    Tiv's father had died in 1906, and his son assumed the responsibility of supporting the family, which included sending his younger brother, Hoge, through high school and college. The young doctor remained in that small, isolated community for eleven years, gaining a reputation for his ability to treat typhoid fever successfully and for his skill in handling difficult obstetric cases.
    Mr. Ralph Rasnick, on the staff of the Coalfield Progress, summed up Dr. Sutherland's early practice:
    Years later Doc recalled that there were no regular fees scheduled in those early years. Labor cases were $5 and, after a number of years, went up to $10. Office calls were 50 cents to $1. He usually charged 25 cents a mile for travel on horseback or on foot. When he went to a home on a call, he charged very little other than mileage.
    He rode on horseback for a dozen years before he bought a T-Model Ford, although he often remarked that it was of little use to him since there were no roads. He complained that there was no hospital within fifty miles and no way to get to it if there had been one.
    He married Emma Burns Yates, a Dickenson County teacher, in 1911, and he gave her most of the credit for whatever success he had. Often his calls meant fording swollen streams in bitterly cold weather and he would return home with his feet frozen in the stirrups. His wife would be waiting with a hammer to break the ice and free him.
    "It never made any difference about money," Dr. Sutherland said, in reminiscing about the rewards of practicing medicine. He would accept anything as payment including hams, potatoes, molasses, or, quite often, nothing at all. In fact, one man came to him and told him that he wanted to pay for his own delivery. His folks had never had any money, and the doctor had delivered eleven babies at their house. The man insisted upon paying the debt even though it was thirty years late.
    A versatile man, Dr. Sutherland always carried a pair of pliers in his saddlebags in case someone needed a tooth extracted. "I guess I pulled a washtub full," he once estimated. The bulk of his practice, however, consisted of delivering babies. Although a fire destroyed all his office records in 1934, he estimated in 1948 that he had "caught over 6000 babies," and had averaged about 150 a year.
     Although the doctor was generally welcome everywhere, as is indicated by the singular f act he did not find it necessary to carry a gun, he was shown no special favor on at least one occasion. Speeding down the road to make a call, he chanced to run over an old hen. Not only did he suffer damage when one of the fractured bones pierced his tire, but the indignant owner - apparently a formidable old lady - insisted that he pay her two dollars for the dead chicken, an exorbitant price in those days.
    On one of the doctor's many labor cases, he arrived at the home of a couple who already had seven boys and were hoping that the eighth one would be a girl. When the tired, exhausted mother asked, after the ordeal was over, if the new baby was a girl, he was forced to tell her that their eighth boy had just been born. The mother wailed in disappointment, "Now Doc, y'know I didn't want nary other boy!"
     "Wel-l-l," said Doc, "D'y want me t' put it back?"
     "Lord've mercy, no!" she cried.
    Dr. Sutherland was constantly active and, during the days of the party line telephone, the whole community kept up with his location at any given time. He worked alone in his office at first, but later hired nurses to assist him. These included Mrs. Marie Lester, Mrs. Dolly Rose, and Mrs. Clara Coleman. After the family moved to Haysi, many of the children of friends and relatives lived with the Sutherlands in order to take advantage of the high school. The most that was required of them was to help Mrs. Sutherland with the milking, feeding of stock, gardening, and household chores. For many years after they moved to town, Mrs. Sutherland kept her cows and chickens, and, until the year of her death, there was always a large vegetable garden with truck patches.
    The Sutherlands had six children of their own. The eldest, Ayers, was unmarried and remained his mother's constant companion from the time his father died in 1960 until his own sudden death five years later. The second son, Joshua Price, received his medical degree from his father's alma mater just in time to be called into the service of his country in World War II. He was a captain and a surgeon in the 106th Infantry Division in 1943. When von Rumstedt broke through the allied lines into Belgium in December, 1944, he was taken to a German prison, where he was praised for his heroic service to both comrades and foes alike. He was liberated some weeks later. After the war he returned home to become the head physician for the Harman Coal Company near Grundy and now owns and operates the Sutherland Clinic in that town.
     The third son, Tivis Colley Sutherland, Jr., also served overseas in World War II. He attended Emory and Henry College and now assists his brother at the Sutherland Clinic. The older daughter, Mrs. Ruth Watkins, has served as a teacher and as a public welfare supervisor in Lee and Buchanan Counties. She is active in club and church work and is a member of the Buchanan First Presbyterian Church, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Historical Society of Southwest Virginia, and the Lovelady Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
    The younger daughter, Blanche, is now Mrs. Almer Arrington of Abingdon. Before her marriage, she was an accomplished bookkeeper and accountant.
    Together with Dr. A. S. Richardson of Grundy, Dr. Sutherland helped form the Buchanan-Dickenson County Medical Association in 1932, and served as president and secretary of the organization. In 1935, he fought a tireless battle which culminated in the establishment of the first public health department in Dickenson County. He also fought to have the town of Haysi incorporated and afterward served many terms as councilman. He also served some years on the School Electoral Board of Dickenson County. Other successful undertakings in which he had a part were the moves to establish the Breaks Interstate Park and to build the road down the McClure River. He was a large stockholder in the Old Cumberland Bank and Trust Company, and president of the Dickenson County Diamond Jubilee Association in 1955. He was a member of the Sandy Valley Masonic Lodge of Grundy and of the Kazim Temple of Roanoke; a charter member and director of the Haysi Kiwanis Club organized in 1949; and a member of the Haysi Church of Christ.
    At the meeting of the Virginia Medical Association in October, 1958, Dr. Sutherland was named the "General Practitioner of the Year" in recognition of his fifty years of faithful medical service. On November 23, 1958 Doctor Tiv, was honored by the people he had served in this rugged hill country for half a century. More than 800 people turned out to pay homage to the man who had doctored their ills, delivered their babies, and offered them love and counsel since 1908. Many of those included three generations of men and women he had ushered into the world.
    Doctor Tiv, nearing his 79th birthday, was caught completely by surprise at the "This is your Life" program planned for him, just as he was when he received the state-wide honor by his fellow physicians. It was with tears in his eyes and his unusual smile that Dr. Sutherland greeted relatives and friends who came forward as living testimonies of their love and respect for him. Among the program participants was Mrs. Emma Barton of nearby Bee, VA, who interrupted Doctor Tiv's wedding night back in 1911 when she chose that night to be born. Another participant was Mrs. Betty Pauly of Detroit, who brought along her month old daughter, both delivered by Dr. Sutherland.
    All his children and grandchildren were announced, and they greeted him and Mrs. Sutherland on the stage of the Haysi High School Building. Then came old friends and relatives who had boarded in their home to teach or attend high school; and a pioneer minister, the Rev. T. K. Mowbray, who shared the comfort and hospitality of the Sutherland home while he was establishing the Dickenson First Presbyterian Church. After Mr. Mowbray, who had come from South Carolina, there appeared another surprise visitor for the occasion - the Rev. Neil McKinnon, a Methodist minister of Clintwood, who had also stayed at the Sutherland home on occasions, and who hilariously described the way in which he came over to Haysi and baptized Mr. Mowbray's new Presbyterian converts by immersion. Since he was a Methodist, the members largely former Baptists who wished to join the Presbyterian Church, the Rev. McKinnon said that he still had not figured out exactly what those he baptized were. 
    County officials, school authorities, members of the Legislature, state senators, and Ninth District Congressman, Mr. W. Pat Jennings, all came to pay tribute. The ladies of the community served lunch to the hundreds of people who attended the ceremony that was presented by Mr. Glen Kiser.
     Messages and awards flooded in from all over the nation: the certificate of recognition presented by the Medical Society of Virginia to Doctor Sutherland; a certificate of appreciation and recognition, signed by the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the Governor of Virginia, J. Lindsey Almond, Jr.; a letter of congratulation from Congressman W. Pat Jennings; also congratulations from the district governor of the Kiwanis International; an article in the Commonwealth "Virginians in the Public Eye", also letters from Mr. & Mrs. W. West of Fincastle, VA; Allen D. Crutchfield of Richmond, VA, Tivis D. Owens, Attorney, of Richlands, VA; Dr. G. D. Vermilya, of Clinch Valley Clinic Hospital; Dr. Frank S. Givens of Roanoke; and a most interesting personal letter from Dr. Sutherland's younger brother, Mr. J. H. T. Sutherland, which was written to his nephew, Dr. Joshua P. Sutherland of Grundy. In the course of this program the late Dr. Williams of Richlands appeared on the stage and told how he and Dr. Sutherland once performed a leg amputation on a dining table.
     Dr. Sutherland was one who seldom complained or spoke of his own troubles. However, in 1959 it became evident that his health was failing. During 1960 he agreed to go to Charlottesville for extensive tests, and eventual surgery.
    Later he returned to his home in Haysi, and it soon became evident that the courageous old soldier was fighting a losing battle. He passed away on October 21, 1960 at his home, with his beloved Emma and his children by his bedside.
    His funeral service on October 23, 1960, was conducted at the Haysi Church of Christ, and was attended by more than a thousand people, many of whom were unable to enter the church except to file past his casket with tearful eyes. So vast was the procession that cars were parked from lower Main Street most of the way to the northern Haysi corporate limits. The great array of floral tributes filled the church altar and overflowed to the windows and walls.
    Honorary pall bearers were from his own medical profession and business associates.
    He was buried on the hill overlooking the town of Haysi that he loved so well.
    Besides his widow and five children, he was survived by his sister, Mrs. May Owens, of Tiny, Dickenson Co., VA; his brother, J. H. T. Sutherland, (who passed away in February, 1970); eleven grandchildren; and a host of relatives and friends. I cannot think of a more fitting way in which to close the life story of this great Southwest Virginian than to quote from my own feature article in the Bristol Herald Courier in 1948, the fortieth year of his medical practice:
    Dr. Sutherland has lived perhaps a more interesting life than many other individuals combined, but he was too busy to capitalize on it. He endured long hours of weariness and loss of sleep. He faced danger in the forms of disease, flood, ice, snow, sub-zero weather, and traffic risks, but none seemed to alarm or ruffle him. His calmness, cheerfulness, and generosity were his stepping stones to fast friendships and success.
     Much has been said of the feats of gunmen of the Cumberland ranges who destroyed life, but far too little is told of those brave souls who escorted and saved the lives of a veritable forest of grateful people.

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