Former UMaine president Hutchinson dies at age 79

Posted April 07, 2010, at 5:26 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Frederick E. Hutchinson, a native of rural Atkinson who graduated from the University of Maine in 1953 and went on to became his alma mater’s president, died Wednesday in Bangor at 79.

He was remembered by some on Wednesday as a distinguished leader and dedicated educator who never forgot his farm boy roots.

“Fred Hutchinson was a friend and mentor who exemplified the University of Maine experience,” UMaine President Robert Kennedy said. “He often spoke of the great opportunities that came his way only because he was able to earn a UMaine degree, and he was deeply honored to serve as the university’s president.

“Fred Hutchinson was a distinguished leader whose example will continue to inspire UMaine students and others for many years to come,” Kennedy said, adding that UMaine’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast is named in the former president’s honor.

The center, which opened in 2000, brings UMaine classes and outreach programming to midcoast Maine, a mission Kennedy called a “a truly fitting legacy. It exists to create opportunities for those who can benefit from access to UMaine, just as Fred did during his remarkable life.”

Gov. John Baldacci agreed: “Fred Hutchinson was a great advocate for improving educational aspirations for Maine people. His dedication to opening up educational opportunities for Maine families will remain through the legacy of the Hutchinson Center in Belfast.”

Hutchinson was the first member of his family to go to college. His high school sweetheart, Dione Williams, arrived at UMaine a year after he did and the two married in 1952, the summer before his senior year. As he completed his degree in agronomy, the couple lived in a one-room apartment built for the flood of married students who arrived at UMaine after World War II.

After he earned a master’s degree at UMaine in 1958, Hutchinson joined UMaine as a soil science professor in 1960. He earned a doctorate at Pennsylvania State University in 1966 and returned to UMaine where by 1972 he had become dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and director of the Maine Agriculture Experiment Center. He was promoted to vice president of Research and Public Service in 1975 and in 1982 he left the state to work in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He returned to academia in 1985 at The Ohio State University where he served as provost. He became UMaine’s 16th president on April 1, 1992, serving in that role until his 1997 retirement. He also was one of UMaine’s top fundraisers.

On Wednesday, Baldacci remembered the leadership Hutchinson also lent to the state as chairman of the Dairy Task Force established in 2003 to help address dairy pricing issues.

“Fred’s contributions to Maine’s dairy industry were invaluable in finding solutions to stabilize pricing and thus preserve this vital industry in the state. My thoughts and prayers go out to Fred Hutchinson’s family and to the many friends he made over the years,” he said.

Among those friends is University of Maine Foundation President Amos Orcutt, who first met Hutchinson as a soil science student in the 1960s. The two had much in common, Orcutt said. Both had grown up on Maine farms, shared an interest in science and had a similar sense of humor.

“Fred was one of my professors and one of my mentors,” Orcutt said. “He was a wonderful storyteller and when he walked into a room, he lit it up. He was larger than life.” Orcutt recalled Hutchinson’s distinctive handshake — a quick, powerful, once up, once down move.

After losing touch while each pursued his respective career, Orcutt said, he and Hutchinson met up again in 1992.

“I had become president of the foundation and that’s when Fred came back from Ohio,” Orcutt said. “It was a great reunion and our wives became good friends.” The successive years led to numerous road trips as the two worked to promote and raise money for UMaine.

Orcutt is among many who say that despite Hutchinson’s successes in academia, agriculture and other arenas, he never lost the common touch. Despite his travels he never lost his Down East drawl or repertoire of down-home stories.

“He was a smooth-talking farm boy, he was,” Orcutt said. “He was very humble and charming, but he was a sharpie. He always asked the right questions and was always very well prepared when it came to selling investing in education and in the university. He was a great leader and it’s a sad day for Maine and the University of Maine,” said Orcutt,

Hutchinson never forgot where he came from, one friend recalled.

“Fred was very proud of the fact that his [career in education] began with 4-H,” said John Rebar, executive director of Cooperative Extension, which provides 4-H as its youth development program.

Rebar said that as a youngster, Hutchinson was a member of his local 4-H group and among his activities was a calf project.

“Back then, it was not uncommon to have 4-H contests and workshops at UMaine,” Rebar said. It was there, Hutchinson always told people, that he was introduced to higher education and the possibilities that it held.

“In fact, his commitment to 4-H was really lifelong,” Rebar said. While Hutchinson was at UMaine’s helm, he also was chairman of the board for the National 4-H Council. He also was indicted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

“He had a stellar career,” Rebar said. “Those of us who knew him will have a long lasting appreciation of all that he did here. Maine has lost a valued friend.”

Hutchinson is survived by his wife, Dione, two daughters and grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

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