Obituary: That Grand Man

SOUTTER, Nicholas Multi-Lingual Attorney, Adventurer Nicholas Benedict Soutter of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Wellesley, Massachusetts; and Santa Barbara, California, died November 22, 2020 after a brief illness. Soutter was born May 31, 1941, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Dr. Lamar Soutter, M.D., founding dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, war hero, and thoracic surgeon; and Norah Hamilton Straus (nee Goldsmith).

Soutter’s parents divorced soon after his birth. His mother married Major General Pierpont Morgan Hamilton and moved to Santa Barbara. Dr. Lamar Soutter married Mary Cleveland Bigelow and remained in Boston. Nicholas Soutter had the benefit of a pair of immensely talented and devoted parents on each coast, and this afforded him a childhood of adventure and a diversity of cultural experiences that shaped his later life.

Post World-War II, Gen. Hamilton served with the command of NATO forces in Europe. Soutter traveled with his Hamilton family to Germany, France, and England, where he participated in Hamilton’s audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. In Boston, Soutter’s father, Dr. Lamar Soutter, who had been awarded the Silver Star for actions at the Battle of Bastogne, was revolutionizing medical education as dean of Boston University’s Medical School. Dr. Soutter’s dedication to free access to education was to be a founding principle of Nicholas Soutter’s life.

Soutter’s Mum, Mary Soutter — an artist, outdoor adventurer and expert sailor — instilled in her son an unwavering respect for the equality of women, a principle he lived by and advocated for throughout his professional and family life. Although baffled by his love of athletics, she was his biggest supporter as he pursued sports on both American coasts. He played varsity football, hockey, and baseball at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, and sometimes sneaked out of his parents’ house to go to Bruins games on school nights. In summers in Cohasset, Massachusetts, Soutter took up skin diving with one of the early Aqualungs, exploring the base of Minot’s Light and often helping lobstermen untangle submerged pots. In Santa Barbara, Soutter played tennis and more baseball. Soutter was an ambidextrous hitter and a vociferous and ferocious catcher. He was 19 when the Santa Barbara Dodgers awarded him a minor league baseball contract. He attended Spring Training in Florida.

Soutter earned a pilot’s license while still in high school, going on to take up sport parachuting. He was the founder of the Santa Barbara “Sky Hawks” jump club, and a member of the Cambridge Parachute Club out of Mansfield, Massachusetts. By 1962, he was a licensed safety officer for the Parachute Club of America. Soutter undertook a career total of more than 500 parachute jumps. The summer before he entered Harvard College, he attended a Russian intensive program at Choate Academy and then traveled to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

The summer of his junior year at Harvard, Soutter was hit by a drunk driver, resulting in the near amputation of his right leg. This ended his prospects for professional athletics, and opened up his schedule for other pursuits. Soutter continued to jump out of airplanes and flew his twin-engine Comanche airplane as far north as Utqiagvik, Alaska, on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, and as far south as Chile. Although he was tone deaf and did not play an instrument, Soutter joined the Harvard University Band, for whom he served as a proctor through his undergraduate years and well beyond. While Soutter’s official job was to protect the Band’s 100 year-old drum from hijinx by rival schools, Soutter was best known for leading cheers during football games, and participating in the Harvard University Band’s creative and sometimes off-color halftime shows.

Soutter continued his study of languages. He traveled to Paris where he gave tours of the Louvre. Soutter was not employed by anyone, and he had no particular expertise in French art, but plenty of people took his tours, and the money he earned allowed him to go on to Germany. At the Brandenburg Gate, Soutter held a long conversation with a Russian guard who had not seen his family in three years. The guard agreed that Soutter could cross into East Germany to drive a well-known loop of the Eastern autobahn, but he would time Soutter to ensure he made no stops on the Eastern side. On Soutter’s return, the guard let out a low whistle. Soutter had broken the standing speed record for the trip — obliterating any concern that he could have engaged in nefarious pro-American spy-craft in East Germany.

Soutter and all who met him knew that his most obvious gift was for talking. In 1966 he earned his Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School. As an associate at Jameson, Locke, and Fullerton, Soutter dedicated himself to learning the practice of litigation, becoming fluent in Spanish and Portuguese in his spare time. Soutter soon opened an office as a solo general practitioner out of Wellesley, Massachusetts. For the next twenty years, he represented clients of every background, language and legal need, from civil litigation to murder trials. He was passionate about the right to a vigorous defense, and represented many pro-bono, non-English speaking criminal defendants.

In 1987 the so-called “No-Name Storm” tore through the barrier beach protecting the town of Chatham, Massachusetts. A complex legal battle began, raising questions of the right of towns and property owners to protect structures from coastal erosion. Soutter represented four Chatham families in two separate lawsuits over the course of the next ten years, raising issues of science and law that remain the basis of environmental legal practice to this day.

In 1998 Soutter moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife, Diane Reed. From there, Soutter offered language lessons free to anyone, anywhere in the world, who wanted to learn. He taught more than 20 students from elementary school to graduate school in languages from Spanish, to French, to German, Latin and Russian. He taught in-person to local Colorado students, and via Skype for students as far away as Boston, Spain and India. Although he produced more than a few fluent speakers, Soutter is most strongly remembered by his students for his wisdom and humor. To each of them he gave the gift of his tenacity and optimism, his pragmatism, and his enthusiasm for their futures.

Soutter lived a life of great adventure, and daring, and spirit, and he did a great many remarkable things. But most extraordinary about him was his interest in every person he encountered. He was a great talker; but he was a profound listener. The dearest recipients of his interest were his family: his adored wife of forty years, Diane Marie Reed; his son, Nicholas Lamar Soutter (wife Dr. Holly Soutter); his daughter Elizabeth Bigelow Soutter; and his five granddaughters: Mary Bigelow Benedict; Karenna Elizabeth Lamar; Emily Sarah Soutter; Eden Lamar Schwarzer; and Alyssa Nichole Soutter. A Memorial Service will be held in Massachusetts after the COVID crisis. The family requests memorial gifts to the Lamar Soutter Medical Library of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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