AMES, IOWA, NOV. 18 -- Since that dark moment in 1985 when Thomas Sutherland was kidnapped near the Beirut airport, William Murray had looked forward to this day, when he could join in celebrating his son-in-law's release from captivity.

For more than six years, Murray was the family's spokesman in the nightmarish hostage drama. It was a role relished by the retired professor of agricultural economics at Iowa State University here and two-time Republican candidate for governor of Iowa. "He had no problem with the limelight," his eldest son, David G. Murray, recalled today.

But William Murray never got to be spokesman at the drama's most critical moment. He could not relay the family's joyous feelings at news of Sutherland's release in Beirut today.

Murray died of cancer at age 88 here Saturday. According to his son, he knew that a hostage release was expected in the next few weeks but was unaware that it would come so soon and that one of those freed would be his son-in-law. "He missed it by a couple of days," David Murray said.

It has been a time of extraordinary passage for the family. It involved the death of the patriarch here, the expected birth this week of his 10th grandchild to Sutherland's daughter Ann in Berkeley, Calif., and what David Murray called "the rebirth of Tom Sutherland" in the Middle East.

"This is a bittersweet time for those of us in the Murray family," David Murray told about 200 people gathered at a ceremony today on the Iowa State campus to celebrate Sutherland's release and mourn William Murray's death.

News of Sutherland's release overwhelmed the sense of sadness that had touched the spacious, comfortable Murray house near the edge of the campus, alma mater not only of Sutherland but also of Terry Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Beirut held longer than any Western hostage in Lebanon.

An American flag stood in the leaf-covered front yard of the Murray home, and yellow and red, white and blue ribbons encircled a nearby tree. The phone started ringing at 6 a.m. and calls continued all day. Some were from Sutherland's wife, Jean, who arrived in the United States from Beirut Sunday night en route to her father's funeral, which had been scheduled here for Thursday.

According to family members here, Jean Sutherland spent much of the day in a public-telephone booth at the Newark, N.J., airport, confirming her husband's release and rearranging travel plans. They said she was to leave Newark for Frankfurt, Germany, late today and be joined there by the couple's two other daughters, Kit Sutherland of Fort Collins, Colo., and Joan Sutherland of Gresham, Ore.

Thomas Sutherland is expected to be reunited with them at the U.S. air base in Wiesbaden, Germany, that has served as the first extended stop for released hostages since the Iranian hostage crisis more than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, plans were being made here to delay William Murray's funeral until Friday so the Sutherland family, including the newly freed former hostage, can attend.

Sutherland's release also was celebrated in Fort Collins, where he taught animal sciences and genetics for 26 years at Colorado State University.

"He's quite talkative, articulate, full of jokes, the same old Tom," said Gerry Ward, 70, a longtime friend, after watching Sutherland on a televised news conference in Damascus, Syria. "I think I've aged more in the time Tom's been held captive than he has."

David Murray had a similar reaction after watching the news conference on television here. "He looked better than I thought, but I was not totally surprised," Murray said. "He is a resilient guy, and he always had a great sense of humor . . . . It was the same old Tom -- the smile, the twinkle in the eye."

Love of agriculture and of teaching brought Sutherland, a native of Scotland, here in the mid-1950s for graduate study at one of the nation's preeminent agriculture schools where he met Jean Murray, his future wife. The same interests later took Sutherland to Beirut, where he was dean of the agriculture school at the American University of Beirut and she taught English.

David Murray said their devotion to agriculture and teaching served as a bond between his father and his brother-in-law, whom he described as "just like father and son." William Murray was a founder of the Iowa Living History Farms, a facility near Des Moines that commemorates the history of farming in Iowa. For the last several years of his life, David Murray said, his father had "two focuses -- the Living History Farms and Tom Sutherland's release."

"You would have had an earful, I'll tell you," Murray said when asked how his father would have handled today's momentous developments. "It would have been a highlight of his life."

Instead, it was David Murray, chairman of the orthopedic surgery department at State University of New York-Syracuse Medical School, who spoke for the family. An eldest son unexpectedly thrust by death into the role of father, he scurried from interview to interview today with a broad smile on his face.

"At this moment, we can't be anything but happy," he said. "We'll get back to the sadness tomorrow."

Staff writer Lou Cannon in Santa Barbara, Calif., and special correspondent Holli Hartman in Ames contributed to this report.