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January 13, 2009 7:44 AM CST

Where Are They Now: Chris Sutherland

A journey of a lifetime in fast-forward


Chris Sutherland enjoys working as a mason and instructing students in masonry.
Chris Sutherland enjoys working as a mason and instructing students in masonry.
Chris Sutherland grew up in the masonry business. His parents owned their own masonry company in Florida — Sutherland Construction Inc. — where he worked as a laborer and mason tender at an early age, traveling in summer to jobs as far away as Michigan.

After graduating from East Bay High School in Gibsonton, Fla., Sutherland began working for a Tampa company, Red Brookshire of Fla. Inc.

"Masonry was a trade that I had experience in, and I thought it could pay the bills while I worked on my college degree," says Sutherland.

He initially was taking evening courses, studying toward an architectural degree at the local Hillsborough Community College. Sutherland had, at first, decided not to become a mason.

"After just a year of college classes, my thoughts about my future changed dramatically," Sutherland says. "I realized that I really liked working outdoors and liked the work I was doing as a tender and forklift operator. I couldn't picture myself ever working inside an office. My thoughts of choosing masonry as a career had changed entirely."

In 1999, Sutherland joined an apprenticeship program at Pinellas Technical Education Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. Through this apprenticeship, he had an opportunity to compete against other apprentices in masonry competitions.

Sutherland excelled in the competitions. In 2000, he started on a winning streak when he won the Masonry Association's competition held in Tampa; a state competition held in Deltona, Fla.; a regional competition held in Franklin, Tenn.; and the MCAA International competition held in Orlando, Fla. In 2001 and 2002, Sutherland once again swept those competitions and added the 2002 SkillsUSA contest. Winning the local competition qualified him for the national masonry contest in Kansas City, Mo., where he took first place.

During a three-year period, Sutherland won 14 masonry contests. His grand finale was winning the National MCAA Championship held in Tampa, where his family and friends could enjoy his performance a final time.

As a result of his contest accomplishments, Sutherland (and other Florida State Skills USA winners) had the opportunity to travel to Tallahassee, Fla., where Gov. Jeb Bush recognized him for his achievements in masonry.

By this time, Sutherland had set such an example for other young masons that the Florida Apprentice and Educational Foundation created "The Chris Sutherland Achievement Award" to annually recognize and honor the first-place, third-year winner of the Florida Apprentice Skills Contest. As a part of that award, the winner's name is engraved on the base of a trophy.

As soon as Sutherland graduated from his apprenticeship program in 2002, Red Brookshire of Fla. promoted him to foreman, which allowed him to begin running his own work.

Cycling Around

In 2006, Sutherland was invited to become an instructor for the same apprenticeship program from which he graduated. He was offered the full-time job of lead instructor to replace his former instructor, Ed Robertson.

"With my work at Red Brookshire, I just couldn't do it full-time," says Sutherland. "So, we worked out an arrangement where my wife, Tiffany, coordinates the program, and I work with another instructor on a part-time basis. While it's different than before, it seems to be working now.

"I'm really uncertain about my future right now," he continues. "It is rewarding to see the apprentices progress, and I take great pleasure and gratification in giving back to the program I graduated from. Still, I have a lot to learn with my company, and I perceive vast potential with Red Brookshire of Fla. It just boils down to taking it one day at a time."

About the Author

J. David Holt, freelance writer and owner of Holt Marketing Group Inc., has been reporting on the SkillsUSA National Masonry Contest since 1994.


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