William Sutherland was born in Oakland, California and attended public schools in Oakland and San Francisco. He received his juris doctorate from Stanford Law School. In 1901, he came to Fresno, California to practice law as a partner in Barbour & Sutherland.
He was a charter member of Las Palmas Masonic Lodge No. 366, serving as Secretary in 1905-1906, and Master in 1909 at the age of 35. He was also active politically, serving on the Republican Central Committee of Fresno County, and successfully being elected as State Assemblyman for the 51st District from 1911 to 1915. He continued to practice law with a new partner as the firm Short & Sutherland and later with Joseph Bernhard. He was active in the Fresno community, serving as chairman of the Fresno County Highway Commission, and worked tirelessly to pass the "Good Road" bonds campaign in 1916. Later in 1923-1924, he became the President of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, a director on the San Joaquin Water Storage District board, chairman of the Fresno Fair District, and serve as a director on the California State Automobile Association board. In 1920, he elected to put aside his law practice to become Vice President and Manager of Fidelity Trust and Savings Bank in Fresno. In 1922, he became President of the financial organization as it merged with Los Angeles Bank & Trust to become Pacific Southwest Trust and Saving Bank. He was a managing director during the construction of the Pacific Southwest Building at Mariposa and 'J' Streets (now the Fulton Mall), and had an office overlooking the main banking lobby. He later maintained a law office on the 14th floor.
In 1926, he returned to his law practice as a partner in Sutherland and Dearing, though he maintained a position on the bank board.
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