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November 25, 2013

Octogenarian is 'Mother of assertiveness'

TRAVERSE CITY — These days Mary Sutherland is more likely to be identified as the mother of the area’s entrepreneurial “Sutherland boys” — Tim, Paul, Bob, Matt and Michael — than as the firebrand who marched on Washington for equal rights.

At 83, the former public speaker, political activist and women’s rights leader is trim, energetic and still very much in tune with causes dear to her heart. But now she does a different kind of work: selling and making up gift boxes two days a week at son Bob’s Cherry Republic, where her picture and anecdotes about her illustrate product labels and catalogs.

Working and walking three or four times a day with golden retriever companion Rosalind Russell Sutherland help keep her healthy, said the grandmother of 17, whose Glen Arbor home is just minutes from the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

“If I didn’t have her, I’d probably lay in the house reading,” said Sutherland, whose book list includes the national bestseller “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Hers is a respected name in the village, where Sutherland and her husband moved with their family in 1970 after vacationing in the area since 1955.

But it wasn’t always that way. Originally a tutor and teacher of everything from lifesaving and remedial reading to debate and drama, Sutherland said she caused consternation when she left her family every week to return to school to earn her master’s degree in communications and women’s studies.

“I left on Sunday to drive to East Lansing so I could come back on Friday,” she said, adding that her son could pour milk for his own cereal when he was 5. “People thought I was terrible.”

Eventually she built a career as a professional speaker and workshop leader on topics like assertiveness and self-esteem. Along the way she helped found a local NOW organization focused on passing an Equal Rights Amendment, a Women’s Political Caucus aimed at getting women elected to public office, and a Women’s Resource Center designed for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

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