Steve Sutherlin.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan.—Steve Sutherlin, an optical laboratory executive who was instrumental in the success of his family’s business, Sutherlin Optical, and who later played a key role in merging the Optical Laboratories Association (OLA) into The Vision Council, died of a heart attack on December 28, 2023. He was 70 years old and lived in Overland Park, Kansas. Sutherlin was “an optical lifer,” who got his start in the family lab at a young age, folding mailing boxes on Sundays, as his Vision Council biography noted. He was a third-generation family member at the Kansas City, Missouri-based company, following his grandfather and father as company president. He began working full time at Sutherlin Optical in 1974, after graduating from the University of Missouri.

“Dad handed him the keys to the company car and put him on the road,” recalled his brother, John Sutherlin.

He became president of the lab in 1991. Together with his brothers John and Mike, and their sister, Laura, they grew Sutherlin Optical into one of the largest independent labs in the U.S. Sutherlin Optical became an Essilor Partner Lab in 2007. The lab closed its doors several months ago.

In 2015, a few years after the merger of the Optical Laboratories Association, Sutherlin joined The Vision Council as lab division liaison. He was instrumental in arranging the merger, as well as the merger of the California Optical Laboratories Association (COLA) into the lab division, according to Michael Vitale, ABOM, LDO, NCLE, vice president, membership, government relations and technical affairs, The Vision Council. “Steve was a pillar of our industry and a dear friend. He will be sorely missed,” said Vitale.

Mike Daley, a longtime industry executive and former Vision Council CEO, added, “Steve was one of those people that everybody loved. He was honest and ethical. Underneath his serious demeanor he was fun loving, and a loyal friend who was passionate about his family.”

Sutherlin retired from The Vision Council in 2020.

Over the course of his 45-year career, Sutherlin was involved in several national, state and local optical organizations. He served on the OLA board from 1998 to 2007, serving as president in 2005 and 2006. He was president of Lightbenders Inc. for two years, and president of the Midwest Optical Laboratories Association (MOLA) for two years. He served on the board of the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic.

Sutherlin received the Missouri Optometric Association’s Friend of Optometry award twice, the Heart of America Eyecare Congress Vision Service Award, and the Kansas Optometric Association’s Vision Service Award. He was inducted into the OLA (now the Vision Council lab division) Hall of Fame in 2008, and received the lab division’s Directors' Choice Award in 2019.

A dedicated sports fan, Sutherlin was a supporter of the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, and University of Missouri Tigers, and held season tickets to each team’s games.

Sutherlin is survived by his wife, Liz Sutherlin, his children Ben Sutherlin, James Stetson, and Rachel Stetson, and siblings Mike Sutherlin, Laura Koons, Janet Wagner and John Sutherlin.

Funeral services will be held January 24, 3:00 pm CST, at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kan.

Donations can be made in his name to the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic and the Pharmacy of Grace.