BEIRUT — Jean Sutherland's students once gave her a plaque that reads: If anything can go wrong, it will.
It did. On June 9, 1985, Sutherland's husband, Thomas, was kidnaped along Beirut's airport road as he was returning to the American University of Beirut, where he was dean of the school of agriculture.
Now, however, Jean Sutherland is hoping that this particular Murphy's Law is about to be reversed.
Her optimism over the recent resumption of the hostage release process is shared by the wives of two other hostages--American Joseph J. Cicippio and Briton Jack Mann--who also live in Beirut.
In spite of the civil strife and difficult conditions, Jean Sutherland, Elham Cicippio and Sunny Mann chose to stay near their husbands. As the only three hostage wives in Beirut, the women have become media personalities. Journalists camp on their doorsteps to catch a quote or plead to be allowed to take a picture of them listening to the radio when hostage news is being broadcast.
"I made up my mind to stay until he was released," says Sunny Mann, whose 77-year-old husband may be the next hostage freed. She and the two other women say they feel that their husbands know they are nearby.
Jean Sutherland's survival plan has been "to work hard to keep both home fronts going." The Sutherlands' three daughters live in the United States, and she spends a brief part of each year there.
She and her husband came here determined to contribute to a better Lebanon--and that commitment did not end with his abduction. Indeed, Jean Sutherland's dedication to teaching has earned her admiration at AUB.
Elham Cicippio's in-laws have provided her with strong support. Cicippio, who is Lebanese and works at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, was packed to leave for a visit to the Cicippio family in Pennsylvania when the news of an imminent hostage release caused her to cancel the trip.
Similarly, Sunny Mann last Friday cut short a trip to Britain and returned to Beirut when she heard that her husband's kidnapers had issued a statement accompanied by a photo of him--the first since his May, 1989, abduction.
Jean Sutherland has been waiting six years and three months for a photo of her 60-year-old Scottish-born husband to be released by Islamic Jihad, the group that claims to have kidnaped him. In that time, she has received only one letter.
However, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, which is believed to hold Mann and Cicippio, has issued several statements accompanied by photos of Cicippio. For Sunny Mann and Elham Cicippio, it has been painful to see the pictures, because they appear to reflect a deterioration in their husbands' health.
On the whole, according to the wives, the Lebanese and foreign media have worked hard to help lessen their pain.
According to Sunny Mann, her best support comes from a British journalist who recently went to her rescue when she returned from a trip with no clean clothes and, with hopes high for an imminent release, thought she might have to travel quickly to Damascus, Syria. The journalist arranged to have his hotel do her laundry.
In the past, when a hostage has been freed, the man usually has been handed over to Syrian officials in Lebanon, who escorted him to Damascus, where his embassy took charge and he was reunited with his family.
In anticipation of such a development, each woman has a suitcase packed.
Friends of the women have learned to read their moods and respect their need for privacy, and each friend has a particular way of expressing support. One gave Jean Sutherland a tiny houseplant in Thomas Sutherland's name, for example--and the well-cared-for plant is one of Jean's ways of remembering Tom.
Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays are both difficult and hope-filled for these women in waiting. On Elham Cicippio's living room table, a bouquet of flowers marks last Thursday's fifth anniversary of her husband's kidnaping; the next day was his 61st birthday.
Sunny Mann, meanwhile, marked her 50th wedding anniversary last June--the third year she has been separated from Jack. Always hopeful that an anniversary could trigger a release, she wonders whether this Sunday--the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in which her husband flew--might see him freed.