Celebrating the life of P. William "Bill" Hutchinson
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Bill is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jeri Ann McElroy, of Smithfield, RI; his daughter Suzette Hutchinson (Robert Wilder) of Brewster, MA; his brother John Hutchinson and his nephew Brian Merz-Hutchinson (Michelle), both of Denver, CO; and a large extended family of in-laws, cousins, and three generations of nieces and nephews who loved him dearly. While attending the theater was his first love, Bill’s family and friends also knew him as a kind and generous man who loved cooking, gardening, and cheering for the Boston Red Sox.
Bill was born April 14, 1935 in Lancaster, PA to Parke William and Thelma (Beam) Hutchinson. Interested in theater since the age of six, Bill joined the drama club in junior high school, began acting, and received his first award for exemplary performance. After high school, he attended Franklin & Marshall College, earning a B.A. in English in 1957. He subsequently attended Princeton Theological Seminary, acquiring a B. Div. in 1960. Bill also completed an M.A. in speech and theater at Teachers College, Columbia University in 1962 and a Ph.D. in theater at Northwestern University in 1968.
The opportunity to be close to Adrian Hall, founding artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, was a key factor in Bill’s decision to come to Rhode Island College in 1968. He often said that sitting in on rehearsals of Adrian’s plays taught him so much about directing. Teaching various undergraduate courses throughout his career, Bill also served as the chairperson of the department of music, theatre and dance, and was the coordinator of theatre graduate degree programs. After more than four decades of experience in academia, Bill became a professor emeritus at the college in 2004. He was known affectionately as “Doc” to the legion of students he guided throughout his long career, many of whom went on to successful careers in the performing arts.
Bill’s first teaching appointment was at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, a sister school to Brown University, from 1962 to 1965. His experiences there at the height of the civil rights movement, including involvement with the Free Southern Theatre, proved to be a crucible that shaped the values he carried forward in his life.
For example, Bill’s concern about issues of social justice in the early 1980s led him to perform a one-man show as Clarence Darrow, the crusading early-20th-century lawyer. He received grants from the Rhode Island Committee on the Humanities (RICH) for this show, performed at Trinity Rep, and for his portrayals of other historical characters, including Roger Williams and Henry David Thoreau. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) chose Bill’s Darrow performance as its exemplary project in 1984.
Bill's distinguished career history included directing over 100 plays and readings between 1957 and 2006. A dedicated civic advocate on behalf of his community, he was instrumental in the proliferation of the arts, beginning in 1970 as the Rhode Island Arts Education Project theater coordinator. He later held leadership roles with the American College Theater Festival, the Providence Inner City Arts Association and the Rhode Island Playwrights Theater, and was an artistic director and board director for the NewGate Theater. He was also the director of dance and drama at the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence from 1969 to 1975.
While Bill received many honors as a testament to his success, he was most proud of the Claiborne Pell Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from Trinity Repertory Company in 2003. That same year, he also received several alumni accolades and a Distinguished Service Award from the faculty of arts and sciences at Rhode Island College. In addition, Bill received a Directing Award from the New England region of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in 1984. He was honored with the New England Theatre Conference's Leonidas A. Nickole Educator of the Year Award in 2013. In 2020, he was presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who's Who®.
A memorial service and a celebration of his life will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to HopeHealth Hospice and Mathewson Street United Methodist Church.
The family wishes to thank all the healthcare providers who cared for Bill throughout his life.
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