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Hutch

Spiritual Smart Aleck
Balladiers 1962, left to right: Rick Tuel, Jim Hutcheson, Terry McNeil (Nandi Devam)
Balladiers 1962, left to right: Rick Tuel, Jim Hutcheson, Terry McNeil (Nandi Devam)

I was supposed to write a column today. I meant to, I planned to, but then I got a message from Marie, Jim’s sweetheart, that Jim Hutcheson died today, and the news blew me sideways.

Jim was one of the guys with whom Rick played music when they were in high school in Germany, back in 1962. Rick always called him Hutch. They and another friend, Nandi Devam, played USO clubs all over Germany, covering every Kingston Trio song they could learn. They called themselves “The Balladiers.”

These kids had traveled from post to post with their military parents all their lives, so when they left Germany, they lost touch with each other.

Which is why Rick did not hear from Hutch again for about forty-seven years. We found the third member of the group, formerly Terry McNeil, who changed his name to Nandi Devam, living in Berkeley. He was looking for Hutch, and not finding him.

Rick talked about Hutch a lot, and wished he knew whatever happened to him. Once we had the internet, I searched for him, but did not know that Jim’s last name was Hutcheson, not Hutchinson, so no success.

Then, on October 4, 2009, Rick went into the hospital in kidney failure. We had an eventful afternoon and evening at the ER. Late that night when Rick was admitted and sent to a hospital room, I went home. I was tired, I was stressed out, but of course I sat down to check my email.

I found a message from Classmates.com. Normally I would delete such a message but for some reason I opened that one. It was a question: “Are you the Rick Tuel who sang with the Balladiers in Germany?” It was signed, Jim Hutcheson.
Wow! After all the years of wondering where and how he was, that was the day he got in touch. It felt like a strange serendipity.

I immediately wrote back to him saying yes, he had contacted the right Rick Tuel, and how wonderful it was to hear from him, and Rick went into the hospital today, and here’s his hospital room number. Please call him.
The next day when I walked into Rick’s hospital room, he was on the phone with Hutch, and they were catching up on a few decades of news.

After that, we remained in touch with him. About three months later, when Jim realized that Rick could not work because of his illness, he started sending us money every month. He kept that up for a year. This is an example of a practical generosity that knocked me out. That was the kind of guy Jim was. You don’t forget someone who quietly stands up for you like that.

He had a wicked and goofy sense of humor, which went a long way to explaining his friendship with Rick. Well, that and the music, of course.

In 2012 we went to a 50-year high school reunion in California, and saw him and Nandi. A little later that summer he and Marie flew out to Seattle for a few days for a visit. Then as time went on we heard less often from him. He had a busy life.

A few weeks ago, on the sixteenth of July, he posted a picture of himself walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, a happy day.

And now he’s gone.
From comments on Marie’s Facebook page, he was consistent throughout his life. People call him a wonderful guy, a hero.

He was, among other things, a school vice-principal. He worked with kids who had learning disabilities. He mentored many young family members. He was a good guy. I’m sad for Marie, and for his adult children and nephews and other family members and friends.

I’m grateful that Rick knew him, and that I got to know him, and am simply grateful for his life, but sometimes in the shock of hearing of someone’s death, it takes a while to get to the gratitude.
Rest in peace, Jim Hutcheson.