A son remembers Fred Hutchinson: the legend and the man

Hutch Magazine

‘He was my dad’

A son remembers Fred Hutchinson: the legend and the man

Joe Hutchinson pauses below a portrait of his father, Fred, during a recent visit to the research center.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

The hands are what Joe Hutchinson notices first.

Standing before a photo collage on the campus of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, named for his father, the Major League Baseball player and manager, he looks past the photos of his dad posing with celebrities and zeros in on one in the lower right-hand corner. In it, a young Joe sits beside his father, his dad’s hand covering his.

“My dad had huge hands,” he remembers, noticing that in the photo he’s also wearing his father’s cufflinks.

While the world knew Fred Hutchinson from his baseball career, and then later as the namesake of the research center, Joe knew him simply as his father. Decades after “Hutch” died in 1964 at age 45, the personal details are what stand out to him.

“He was not like the persona of the guy you saw on the [baseball] field — the fiery type guy,” he remembers of his dad, who was nicknamed "The Bear." “He was really very quiet and gentle. He was my dad. I never really gave it much thought.” 

Despite his father’s baseball career, "we just had a normal childhood," says Joe, now 61.
Sometimes the family would go to Fred’s games. "We’d ride home together after and sometimes it was good, other times it was not so good. He was a competitive guy."

“He was not like the persona of the guy you saw on the [baseball] field — the fiery type guy,” he remembers of his dad, who was nicknamed "The Bear." “He was really very quiet and gentle. He was my dad.”

In 1963, while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds, Fred developed a lump in his neck. His brother, surgeon Dr. Bill Hutchinson, brought him to Seattle to biopsy it. Fred was diagnosed with lung cancer and died the following year on Nov. 12, 1964.

Devastated, Joe remembers his family members trying to go about their daily lives despite the vast hole that had opened in the center. But into the void stepped Uncle Bill, who assumed a fatherly role with Fred’s kids, Joe, Rick, Jack and Patty Jo.

"I remember him totally consumed with his work, but when he came home he was very involved in everyone’s life," says Joe, who was 10 when his dad died.

Bill coped with his own grief by paying tribute to his brother in ways large and small. For years after Fred died, Bill wore his suits, says Joe, despite the fact that his brother had been a much larger man so the clothes hung on him.

"Uncle Bill was just that kind of person. He didn’t have a lot of vanity when it came to himself — but he was bound and determined to beat cancer."

To that end, he founded Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a living memorial to his brother.
On a fall afternoon 50 years after his dad died, Joe stood looking at Fred’s uniform in a case. Then he walked around the Hutch campus, crossing a courtyard of bricks bearing messages in tribute of others’ loved ones, to research labs where scientists are making discoveries that change how cancer is treated, detected and prevented. All of these things were born out a brother’s love and dedication.

"It’s overwhelming what’s been done and how much it’s progressed and how many lives it’s touched," he says. “It’s like science fiction. It’s like going to the moon."

 

Joe Hutchinson shares his memory of his dad, Fred, the baseball player and namesake of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Joe Hutchinson shares his memory of his dad, Fred, the baseball player and namesake of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The Hutch Award® also named after "Hutch" celebrated its 50th year in 2015.

Linda Dahlstrom is a former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center editor. Previously, she was the health editor for NBC News Digital and msnbc.com. She also worked at several newspapers during her 25-year career as a journalist covering AIDS, cancer, end-of-life issues and global health.