William Hutton, who grew up during the Great Depression, was committed to leaving the world a better place; founding Jocelyn House Hospice with his wife is among the many things he did to improve the lives of others
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William “Bill” Hutton led a life dedicated to others.
Born in Toronto on Jan. 30, 1929, his childhood during the Great Depression impacted his politics and worldview, leaving him with a lifelong concern for the underdog – from a 15-year-old couch-surfing following a family breakdown; to a man leaving prison with nowhere to go; to a ballet company in Havana struggling to find dance slippers.
His father, who worked for the Bell phone company, would take Bill and his siblings to see the soup kitchens downtown in an effort to make them realize that times were tough for many people, and they were fortunate to have a father with a good job.
“One of the side-effects of growing up during the depression was the realization that people have to help each other out. You have to work together. All his life, he was trying to make things just a little better,” said his son, John Hutton.
“My dad was profoundly influenced by the Depression. My sister and I always had to eat everything on our plates growing up.”
One of six children, Bill was the only one to graduate high school and university — going on to earn five post-secondary degrees, including a master of education and a bachelor of divinity.
He also studied in Germany as part of the first foreign-exchange program with the country following the Second World War.
In the late 1950s, Bill met his future wife, Miriam, in what was then-known as Frobisher’s Bay (now Iqaluit), as part of a volunteer project organized by the Anglican Church.
The two bonded over their shared faith and dedication to helping others.
“My mother was the daughter of two Baptist pastors…. They had been missionaries in Bolivia, where my mother had lived as a young girl,” John said.
“I think my father had already been feeling the call to go into the ministry. And I think when they met, one of the attractions between my mom and my dad was the original plan that they would become missionaries.”
The two married in 1958; in 1959 John, their first child, was born, followed by Jocelyn in 1962.
William would go on to be ordained as an Anglican priest in the early 1960s, working as a parish priest in a poor area in the north of Toronto.
He also spent time working as an educator, and after moving to Manitoba, convinced his fellow teachers at Windsor Park Collegiate to join the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, which came with significant professional repercussions.
“He was fired and blacklisted in the spring of 1966. The students walked out in protest. It wasn’t just my dad, there were three teachers who were all quite popular, who were trying to bring about change,” John said.
“My father was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The students went out to protest my dad’s firing… He was blacklisted and couldn’t find a job.”
Fortunately, his friend (and future Winnipeg mayor) Bill Norrie, then a school trustee, intervened, and Bill was hired as a guidance counselor at Churchill High School in the fall of 1966. He remained in the Winnipeg #1 School Division for the rest of his professional career.
While teaching at Churchill High School, Bill met Ed Zeglen, who became the family’s foster child for three years.
Zeglen would later go on to a career in education himself, working as the guidance councellor at Kelvin High School, where Bill had also taught.
Bill was one of the last members of the Metropolitan Council of Greater Winnipeg, serving from 1968 until its dissolution in 1971. He ran for mayor in the 1971 election for the unified City of Winnipeg but lost to Stephen Juba.
As president of the Manitoba NDP during Ed Schreyer’s first term in office, Bill had a key role in Manitoba’s first ever NDP government. He then went on to serve two terms as a school trustee in the St. Vital School Division during the 1970s.
In 1980, tragedy struck the Hutton family when Jocelyn, who had been diagnosed with cancer, died at the age of 17.
In 1985, William and Miriam founded Jocelyn House Hospice in her memory, the first free-standing hospice in Western Canada. The couple were pioneers in the development of palliative care in Manitoba.
The family donated their home, where Jocelyn had spent her final days, to the organization, serving on the board of directors and remaining involved with the non-profit in various capacities throughout the years.
“My sister passed away in the summer of 1980. My dad’s health was directly affected and he wasn’t able to continue working much longer afterwards,” John said.
Jocelyn House Hospice opened its doors to its first residents around 1988.
“Dad was recognized as Hero of Manitoba in 2015, for his and my mom’s work with Jocelyn House,” John said. (Miriam, John’s mother, passed away in 2009.)
After his retirement, William became an avid supporter of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and even got the opportunity to perform in a non-dancing role in the Nutcracker.
He also enjoyed travelling to Cuba, where he would distribute ballet supplies inaccessible to the country’s dancers due to the economic blockades, and where on one memorable trip he came face-to-face with Fidel Castro.
On June 6, at the age of 93, William died peacefully, his son and daughter-in-law by his side.
“The world should be a better place after you’ve been there.… He was very conscious of that,” John said.
“He taught that to me and he taught that to my sister. It’s always about doing for others.”
The family has asked that memorial gifts in Bill’s name be made to Jocelyn House Hospice, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet or Future Hope, an organization dedicated to supporting men leaving prison.
A celebration of life service is scheduled for Oct. 1 at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Winnipeg.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.