Inside Margery Sutherland

“All happy families are alike – Every unhappy family if unhappy in its own way.” Wish I had thought of that but Tolstoy said it first. I believe our life together was sometimes one way, sometimes the other, and often in between. I truly believe that we both wanted to swim in the warm waters of life.  We were hampered in this swim by the dead weights of our  pasts that we carried with us to this supposed picnic on the beach.  In my last post, I tried to describe what I believe  are both my dead weights, as well as my life preservers.

This post reflects my attempt to collect in one text, from Marge’s writings and my recollections about her, those beliefs and conceptions she brought with her to our marriage.  I know this is not complete because Marge is not here to express herself in person,but I  will do my best in reconstructing the information I have, with every attempt to be factual, not judgemental.

Marge was born on Dec. 27 1939. President Roosevelt announced our country’s entry into WWII on Dec.8, 1941.  Marge’s father, Alexander Sutherland was an officer, a West Point man and he had made clear to Marge’s Mom, Dorothy, that the Army came first with him. During Marge’s formative childhood her Dad was in Europe fighting the war and got home perhaps 2 weeks a year at best.She had only a few dim memory of the pre-war years. Her mother Dorothy during WWII had the burden of caring for Marge and her older sisters Anne and Patricia, as well as performing the duties, traditionally then, the Dad’s job.

From Marge’s unpublished biography drafts made in about 1986, she recalls having some family fun and laughter at years 2 or three. Following the war, the family moved to Japan, as part of the Army of Occupation. Marge mentions one incident in Japan where another little girl tricked Marge into saying some negative things about another girl, whom the first girl had hidden in a closet. Marge tells of then feeling used, manipulated, and betrayed, in her now  adult vocabulary.

The family moved from Japan to Texas when she was in 3rd grade. She was aware then that her parents were not happy. Some time later, she recalls a scene in the dining room where her parents tell the children that Dorothy is moving back to New York and the girls had to choose to stay with Dad, or go with Mom. This was devastating to her, and she chose to go with Mom as she didn’t think Dad could take care of her. Even in her writing in 1986 she remembers how little and helpless, awful and vulnerable she felt which still brought tears to her eyes so many decades later. We shared a home office and Marge did not want me there. She did not want anyone aware of her emotions being so strong and so in control of her.

Marge’s father moved back to Cornwall, bought a house, and it appeared her parents were trying to reconcile.  Didn’t work to well as her parents got into big arguments and Marge couldn’t stand it. Physical, mental,and emotional pain which she tried to escape by running away from the incidents. She felt torn apart herself. ( as a personal aside, many service veterans have a difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life. The Sutherland’s were not alone in this) Marge’s father left the house and went to live in quarters in nearby West Point Academy.

During this period of unhappiness, tension, lack of communication and mis-communication, Marge decided that her Daddy, and men in general, were the enemy,not to be trusted with her innermost being because she could be hurt. Marge and her mother lived together and developed that being for Momma, with whom she lived, she had to be against Daddy.  Marge truly loved her mother and did reconcile with her father in 1970. She told him that she did love him and he responded that he always loved her

I, Bob, was not aware of the depth of these emotions until after Marge’s death and finding her archives. I had a general vague knowledge of events in the past, but not the distrust of men in general and fear in confiding in them which I believe then transferred to me. A note of irony now.  An earlier post described the time when I drove Marge to her mom’s home in Cornwall, since I had failed to take her to the rail station.  Marge told me later that her Mom said, about me, “Bob’s just like your father.”  I don’t know exactly what this meant.  The Col. and I were both tall, though he was heavier, and that not fat.  I saw the Col. several times and I admired him.  I think our outlook on life was very similar, and I think Dorothy’s comment referred to the entirety of both of us, not just being tall.  At the time, I thought this similarity as positive, but it may well have been at the root of our later relational troubles.

Marge was very intelligent and much more fluent in the use of language than I will ever be.  She was aware that though when was with her classmates, she was not of them. She wrote a very lyrical essay about herself in 1956 titled “Alone.” Her closing line in this is: The thing you fear most of all, unconsciously, is your mind and what it can both make you do and not do…and you fear being alone and that she was alone.  She also wrote some essays with the theme of abandonment. For example,an old and  abandoned house would be symbolic of her own fear of abandonment.  Being a sensitive girl, and her own personal history growing up this is understandable. Understandable to me now, but I never knew the depth of this while she lived.

I do not believe Marge had a boyfriend in High School.  She did write about a boy, I think Bill Ormsby, who invited her to the junior prom when she was in 8th grade.  Neither he nor anybody else invited her when she was a junior.  Alone again. She described herself then as tall, slim and intelligent.  The physical part was obvious and the intelligence was proven by the many accolades she received for composition, oratory, and public speaking.

After graduation from high school in 1957 at the age of 17 she started at Syracuse University, same as I did in 1954. She wrote, concerning that time, that she was very naïve, very innocent, very insecure. She had a roommate who called her “provincial.”  As I came from a remote prison town, I was not exactly Mr. Continental myself.  I did date some in High School, and working in the resorts brought me into contact with many waitresses.  I worked in many venues, and there were never waiters, just waitresses.  So for me some pleasant summer romances, but nothing serious. Getting back to Marge: she believed all she had to protect herself was her intelligence and dignified manner. She quotes a phrase she used to describe herself “as dignified as a tree-full of owls.” As far as I know owls are not social birds.  They don’t flock. They sit on a tree limb by themselves, observing their surroundings.  So, again, another example of being “alone.”

There was a prior Bob in Marge’s life at Syracuse University that I never knew about. He was 10 years older than Marge , saw her in choir and came over to her dorm asking for her. They went out several times, and on a big football weekend he asked her to go with him to the Persian Terrace, a very posh place to quote Marge. However, instead he took her to his brother’s apartment. Marge didn’t like the feel of it and managed to tear the hem of her dress as a reason to go back to the dorm.  End of relationship.  Also, another validation that men are not to be trusted.

At this point, I have to briefly introduce Roy.  Roy was my roommate all through college, and we stay good friends.  Roy was and is a charming person, and all 3 of us were at Syracuse with an academic scholarship so we were all quite intelligent.  Marge and Roy became interested in each other during a German class they took due to their common interest in and ability with language. Marge fell in love with Roy.  Their relationship lasted perhaps 6 weeks and Roy drifted away. Marge felt rejected and bereft but she still loved him. (comment by me, Bob…Roy and I would share with each other tales of our love life, and he said something to the effect, that he felt that Marge was in a higher social class than he.  So he did drift away, not really break up. At that time I had gone with a Polish girl who was artistic, tall, leggy, and drop-dead gorgeous. She was quite aware of this and she was a bit of an ice princess. We also said good-bye.  I asked Roy if it was OK if I asked Marge out.  His response was that probably Marge and I would be a better match than he and Marge, so go for it.  Thus did we meet.)

Marge left a folder containing results from a personality test.  I think this was prepared about 1990 and appears to be the results from a paper and pencil test.  I don’t think her personality changed much from 1960 to 1990, so I am including it here since I think it is relevent.  I chose to include, results that she has highlighted as being of relevance.


These descriptions show her to be in emotional discomfort with lowered psychological defenses. Overly critical of self and others, and likely to express negative views about self and others.

Antisocial features: hostile, independent, impulsive and rebellious. a history of conflicts with social limits is common.

She may express anger toward men. Impulsive, inappropriate expression of sexual conflicts. She has difficulties expressing anger in a modulated assertive way, becoming passive-aggressive and manipulative.

There is little concern about how others view her. Decision making tends to be indecisive.

She feels overwhelmed and stressed with coping with life. Excessive worry, depression, hopelessness, and futility are described. Stress likely handled by withdrawing, daydreaming and fantasy. There is some difficulty understanding the motivations and behaviors of others.

Others may see her as bossy, aggressive, as well as argumentative.


I don’t want to end on a negative note.  Margery was often a caring person, very intelligent, sensitive, attractive, and quick-witted with a quirky sense of humor. Marge often included in her letters to me typed copies of poetry that had a special meaning to her. She often wrote at night and often would end with a little teaser such as “time to go too bed now, alone damn it.” I have all the letters she sent me  before our marriage. I wish we had not just left them in boxes, but now and then read our real love letters aloud to each other. I wish she were alive to tell her own story. Obviously not to be.  This has been the best I can do with the material she left.

This summary of Marge’s personality profile are her indications of the impact of those results to her.  I believe that the condensed version of her own observations about herself up to the time we married do agree largely with this analysis.  I too am much the same person as I was in 1960. We both had our dark sides. My next post will deal with the conflicts and misunderstandings we both faced in our marriage, and our eventual success in dealing with them.

I close with a quote from Mr. Kalas, the author of my prologue. “Discomfort has to do with the yearning of our souls to grow and develop. Most of the time the discomfort is not evidence that the marriage isn’t working but precisely that it is working. The marriage is confronting you with the work of selfhood. Selfhood is  sometimes damn hard work”.

I know Marge would agree, since she cut out and saved this article.

So long for now from both of us.  By the way, when she died, we were happy.

Bob and Marge


About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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11 Responses to Inside Margery Sutherland

  1. Kathilyn Bigler says:

    I know she died happily surrounded by her beloved family!!! A counselor once told me to embrace pain as it means growth!!! However, sometimes it is so hard to grow!!!! Keep writing- you are just such an inspiration!!!!

  2. Allan T. says:

    Robert, I do know you were both Happy with each other at or near the time of Margery’s passing. I understand to an extent of getting married to someone with baggage. In this case, both of Janice’s parents were the villains in her life.
    I don’t want to go into detail; but it was her Grandmother’s that protected her. When the last one died, I was told by her it was now my job to protect her. Not ever being made aware of what had happened( and was still going on) I had no idea of what I had to protect her from. That led to a few years of a rough marriage, until I saw first hand how she needed protection; at the point I became aware, not only did I take over, I removed her parents from her life.

  3. ingridmg2014 says:

    I certainly remember Mom saying the thing about her being “as dignified as a tree full of owls” on more than one occasion. I always interpreted that to mean that if ONE owl was dignified, well, she was as dignified as a whole tree full of ’em would have been! Your interpretation puts a different spin on things and I enjoyed your bit of insight there. Fortunately I think she got over the overly dignified thing, as I remember her as being a fun mother who played with us as children and who enjoyed teasing and exchanging jokes and funny stories with us as we became adults. I’m sure she was still dignified when the occasion warranted, such as at church or work.
    I guess I have adopted some of Marge’s traits in these regards. When I am in an unfamiliar setting I am most comfortable when I am dressed to the nines, ever so proper, and, figuratively speaking I stand to one side and observe before jumping in. When I’m surrounded by established friends or family, however, I enjoy having fun and being silly!

    • Bob says:

      Yes Ingrid, Marge also had an image of a turtle I believe. I thought I possessed some graphic illustrating that, an old card or something. I can’t find it so did not mention the turtle in the post. Marge,like many, had abandonment and rejection issues. I think the owl and, possibly the turtle with its shell, were symbolic of her defenses. She was a good and true friend of many. She was often fun, charming and witty. Much as you are when you are comfortable. At the same time, the two of us had long term serious difficulties. With the help of my therapist, Christine, I am slowly working toward a better understanding of both of us. Hardest work I ever did.

      • Allan T. says:

        Robert, I can only say, you are a better man then I. I am not sure I would be able to sit down with one an dissect my/our lives with a stranger. Lord knows, up until just months ago, my own mother never knew half of the crap Janice’s father( mother now dead.. thank god) still puts her through.

      • Bob says:

        I don’t know if I am a better man, just maybe a bit different. For me, this is my way of dealing with grief. Writing has become my way of coming to grips with our entire life and, hopefully, getting to know both myself and Marge a bit better.

    • Allan T. says:

      I also find comfort in being “dressed well” when out in a crowd. Of course until Janice taught me how to dress well, I never knew or cared. To this day I own more clothes then she does. LOL

      • Bob says:

        Yes, I feel that way myself. Yesterday J. C. Penney was having a sale and i went shopping for shirts. Bought 5 and the least expensive one was $9.95. I wore it today, it is a shirt with blue stripes on a white background. Not my usual style, I wore it to church and grocery shopping today.I received two compliments on how good it looked, one at church from someone i knew and at Von’s from a complete stranger. a very nice feeling, getting out of my conservative comfort zone.

  4. Allan T. says:

    Yes, yes, it is a good feeling, especially in the way the world is today, where most folks don’t even nod or say anthing when they bump into you because they were not looking where they were going.

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