Christopher Hutchins, a prominent Bangor businessman and philanthropist, died last month in Sarasota, Florida. He was 80.
Though Hutchins had moved away from Bangor more than a decade ago with his wife of 56 years, Sandra, who preceded him in death two years ago, he is remembered as a generous visionary who poured his time and money into the city he knew best.
“To me, they helped set the pace for what I think has always been one of Bangor’s hallmarks. It’s a community that really thrives on its philanthropic giving, as well as it’s volunteer efforts,” said Tim Woodcock, a Bangor lawyer, former Bangor mayor and Hutchins family friend.
“He always believed in this area, he believed in this community, and he and Sandra lived to demonstrate that commitment,” he said.
Former Bangor Mayor Michael Aube credited Hutchins as an early leader in the redevelopment of the city’s waterfront. His financial contributions, Aube said, paved the way for other private and public investors who have made the space what it is today.
“I feel strongly that had he not been investing, this stuff would not have happened. It triggered a Renaissance of doing things downtown,” Aube said.
After attending boarding school in Connecticut, and college in Washington, D.C., and Boston, Hutchins returned to Bangor in his mid-20s to help his father run the family business, Dead River Company, which was founded in 1909 by his grandfather, Charles Hutchins, according to his obituary.
In 1975, Hutchins left Dead River and founded Alternative Energy Inc., opening wood-fired power plants across the country and selling power to Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. and Central Maine Power Co.
While running AEI, Hutchins started a venture capital firm with his two sons, Chip and Britt, and in 1998 they purchased Snow & Nealley, a local ax and tool manufacturing company. The next year, Hutchins bought the Maine Times, an alternative Bangor-based newspaper founded in the 1960s. His dream, he told the Bangor Daily News in 2002 after the newspaper abruptly folded, was to “deliver a wonderful newspaper where people could be informed intelligently about the state of Maine.” He wanted a great weekly paper, he said, but, “I did not achieve my goal of developing the Maine Times into a must-read.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, with an eye toward preserving open space and building an outdoor amphitheater on the waterfront, Hutchins paid for a Boston-based architectural consultant to survey the land for development. In 2000, he agreed to donate $3 million for the city to build a permanent amphitheater.
Though the project never reached fruition on Hutchins’ dime, he was the first real private investor and citizen advocate behind a new vision of the waterfront’s future, said Aube, who was mayor at the time and is now CEO for the Eastern Maine Development Corp.
“He really showcased redevelopment strategies that we were able to build upon. It clearly changed the mindset of how we utilized the waterfront,” he said. “That’s really his legacy to this region. You can’t put a dollar value on that.”
Hutchins also served on multiple boards and committees, including the Bangor School Committee and the University of Maine Foundation, according to his obituary. He and his wife also donated time and money to countless local arts and cultural projects, organizations, and schools, and hosted events at their Bruce Road home.
“There are plenty of people, and I think both Chris and Sandra did this, who donate anonymously, and that’s certainly very laudatory. But there are times when in order to stimulate contributions, you have to make an example,” Woodcock said. “To me, they helped set the pace for what has always been one of Bangor’s hallmarks — it’s a community that really thrives on its philanthropic giving. They brought people together by their example.”
In 1995, Hutchins, as president, founder and CEO of AEI, refinanced one of the company’s power plants and donated the proceeds — $20 million — to his Connecticut alma mater, Choate Rosemary Hall, according to BDN archives. At the time, it was the largest gift the school had ever received. Hutchins told the BDN the school could use the money as it wanted, adding, “I don’t like my name on buildings.”
Visitation for Hutchins’ friends and family will be at Brookings Smith Funeral Home in Bangor from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8. A funeral service will be held the following morning at 11 a.m. at All Souls Congregational Church.
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