Robert Lee Sutherland
On July 15, 1939, after Ima and Mike Hogg came to terms with the university about the dispensation of their late brother Will’s estate, a terse statement of the new foundation’s mission appeared in the legal agreement transferring the Hogg endowment to the Board of Regents.
The endowment would provide a “fund” for a “mental health program” for “the people of Texas” which the Hogg family felt “could be best done through the University of Texas.”
In order to transform that broad imperative into a more specific plan of action, university president Homer Rainey—in consultation with Ima Hogg and an advisory committee—went in search of a leader for the new foundation.
More precisely, Rainey reached out to one of his longtime colleagues, Robert Lee Sutherland.
Born in the rural town of Clarinda, Iowa, in 1903, and raised in Seattle, Washington, and Galesburg, Illinois, Sutherland would later tell people that he “financed [his] way through high school” in Galesburg by “raising pure bred livestock.”
He attended Knox College in Illinois, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1925. After teaching public speaking at a small college for a year, Sutherland completed a Master’s degree in Theology at the socially progressive Oberlin College in 1927, where he wrote a thesis entitled “Relation Between Eschatology and Jesus’ Ethics,” which attempted to demonstrate the ethical lessons offered by the historical Jesus.
The influence of religious belief continued in Sutherland’s dissertation, a field study of African American churches in Chicago, which resulted in his doctoral degree being awarded in the field of Christian Theology and Ethics.
After finishing his doctorate, Sutherland was hired as a professor of sociology at Bucknell University, where he first met Rainey, who was chair of the sociology department (and also an alumnus of the University of Chicago's graduate school).
Sutherland’s career blossomed at Bucknell. He was the lead author of a textbook, Introductory Sociology (1935), that would ultimately go through seven editions and be used in courses at more than 250 colleges and universities.
When the Rockefeller Foundation’s American Council on Education established the American Youth Commission (AYC), a five-year research program on American youth, Rainey was appointed as the director and Sutherland as an associate director supervising the AYC’s “Negro Project.”
The project, which began early in 1938, produced four major book-length studies of African American youth in different parts of the United States. Each book in the AYC monograph series presented lengthy life histories of individual black teenagers from different class backgrounds, drawn largely from interviews, field notes, and regional social survey data.
In this project, Sutherland adopted a presentation style that combined detached scholarship, a quasi-religious sense of mission, and reform-minded advocacy, qualities his contemporaries would later cite in their recollections of him. Even potential adversaries found themselves quickly disarmed by his “folksy” and “friendly” manner.
By the time Sutherland was contacted by Rainey about the possibility of leading the new foundation, he had a national reputation, and was being courted as a potential president by two other universities.
Sutherland was attracted to the Hogg Foundation directorship, however, because it offered him “a field where new projects can be started” rather than “general administrative work of a more traditional type.”
Sutherland visited Austin in April 1940, meeting with Rainey, Ima Hogg, and individual members of the Board of Regents, all of whom gave their approval for offering Sutherland the position. He accepted, and in the fall of 1940 became the foundation's first director. He would hold the position for the next 30 years, all the while maintaining a close working relationship with Miss Ima, who continued to influence the foundation's mission and focus until her death.
He was also active as a sociologist and professor until his retirement from the university in 1974, when he was named president emeritus of the Hogg Foundation. Under his leadership, the foundation grew from a small staff with an initial budget of $20,000 to a twenty-person staff with an annual expenditure of over half a million dollars.
A quiet determination and sense of mission would infuse Sutherland’s leadership style at the Hogg Foundation; although low-key in his personal mannerisms, Sutherland exerted a subtle kind of moral suasion over the various public officials, academic administrators, wealthy donors, mental health professionals, and lay citizens with whom he interacted comfortably on a daily basis. As his colleague Ira Iscoe later recalled, Sutherland was “most temperate… [and] never raised his voice. On the other hand, you never wished to disappoint Bob Sutherland.”
When Sutherland stepped down as head of the foundation, in 1970, luminaries in the fields of mental health and philanthropy paid tribute to the work that he'd done over the previous 30 years.
“The wisdom of our choice has been demonstrated again and again,” wrote Homer Rainey, writing in a memorial book produced for the occasion.
According to Ima Hogg, “all concerned [had] reason to be proud” of Sutherland’s tenure.
Many of Sutherland’s oldest colleagues wrote heartfelt messages to him. Ernest E. Neal, the former Prairie View A&M University professor who had served as consultant for the Foundation’s project in Slocum in the late 1940s, said of Sutherland that he was a "completely dedicated man who had the insight and ability to make the Hogg Foundation a reality ... one of the rarest, most insightful, and successful men it has been my privilege to know.”
Sutherland died in 1976 at the age of 73. In a memorial resolution written by Wayne Holtzman, Ira Iscoe, and Charles Bonjean, he was honored as someone who "believed and acted on the premise that even the slightest tree could be of some shade to the weary traveler and that small amounts of aid, given with full heart, at the appropriate time, could be enormously helpful to the recipients. His genius lay in the involvement of people to help people and his faith that there was nothing more productive than the creative abilities of human beings."