John Gordon Sutter

Son of John O. Sutter | San Francisco, CA

Dr. John Orval Sutter

January 13, 1926 – March 16, 2019

John was born and raised in University City (a suburb of St. Louis), Missouri, by Orval C. Sutter and Anne Bernat Sutter. In 1944 he began studies at nearby Washington University before being drafted into the Army at the age of 18 and serving as a combat engineer in World War II. On March 7, 1945, U.S. forces captured the heavily damaged Bridge at Remagen, the last remaining bridge over the Rhine River in Germany, after it failed to collapse from demolitions. Over the next two days, as U.S. forces raced to secure a foothold on the other side and the German military shot at, bombed, and used floating mines to bring it down, John worked to keep the bridge operational, alternately making repairs and running for cover. On March 9th, a massive round fired from a railroad gun, miles away, landed nearby. He felt as if struck by a sledge hammer, as shrapnel embedded in his jaw. After medical evacuation, he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” for valor. Without doubt, the capture and maintenance of an intact bridge over the Rhine shortened the war.

John O. Sutter | 1944

9th Armored Division | 1945

Surabaya, Indonesia | 1955

After recovering from that wound, John rejoined the 9th Armored Engineers, who were advancing quickly across Germany. The war in Europe ended in May, and John subsequently served in military government in Northern Bavaria and then Munich, before discharge in 1946 as a staff sergeant, and a return to St. Louis. In 1948, John earned his first two degrees (B.S. in Public Administration, and M.A. in Economics and History) at Washington University. He then joined the U.S. Foreign Service, accepting a Vice Consul assignment that others feared, to go to China in 1949 as the communists were overrunning the country. While “red” forces closed in, he helped shut down the American Consulate in Shanghai, and supported evacuations. He remained in the city, under communist control, until 1950. His next assignment was to open a consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia. John later received area studies and specialized training on the Indonesian language at Yale. He then served as Economic Officer in the American Embassy in Jakarta.


John left the Foreign Service to pursue a PhD at Cornell University, where he met a wonderful woman, Doris, whom he married in Manhattan in 1956. Doris received an M.A. in modern Chinese history and international relations, and John completed his PhD in 1959, with a dissertation on political influences on the Indonesian economy. He then joined The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization headquartered in San Francisco. John and Doris celebrated their “second honeymoon” by driving to California.

During the Sixties the couple lived in Malaya, which became Malaysia, including two years in Sabah on the island of Borneo. They had two children, Ann Wellwood and John Gordon. Over three decades, John served as Representative for The Asia Foundation in Malaysia (8 years), Indonesia (4 years) and Pakistan (1978-1979), as well as in home office positions in San Francisco while living in San Rafael. His work helped many Asian countries modernize.

For the rest of his life, John pursued the strengthening of democratic global institutions and the establishment of enforceable world law, including serving as President of the World Federalist Association of Northern California and then the Democratic World Federalists.

John was passionate about stamp collecting, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, playing tennis, swimming in his pool, gun control, ending war, and following international events. He did extensive genealogical work, compiling a detailed family tree going back to the 1500s, including eight generations of John Sutters in the U.S.

John and Doris particularly loved to travel, with John visiting approximately 65 countries. Foreign adventures were many, such as helping Lithuanians and Afghans flee communism for life in the U.S., sailing through a typhoon, climbing the hot ash Krakatau volcano in Indonesia, and taking a horse-caravan trek in the mountains of Kashmir.

John passed away in San Rafael at the age of 93, preceded by Doris in 2016. He is survived by Ann (Mark), John G. (Susan), grandchildren Carolyn and John T., and sister Nancy Axford. At John’s request no service will be held. His remains will be buried in St. Louis. Donations may be made in his memory to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation or your favorite charity.

Doris Frances Ake |  John’s Wife

Dr. John O. Sutter |  2015

John Sutter Last meeting with DWF |  2019

DWF News

Subscribe to the DWF News

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from DWF Editorial Board

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This