Monday, December 6, 2010

Bob Hutchison builds on his father's legacy

Bob Hutchison was a three-sport star at Oak Bay High before joining the Canadian track team for the 1952 Olympics. Photograph from the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 6, 2010


Bob Hutchison spent 22 years on the bench as a judge following a quarter-century as a lawyer. In politics, he raised funds and ran campaigns. An amateur athlete of note, he competed at the Olympic Games and later helped build Centennial Stadium, earning induction into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

At 79, he was recently presented a legacy award for sport from the University of Victoria, a fitting tribute in a career not lacking for honours.

For all his accomplishments, he remains known as the son of a man whose name graces a local library, as well as the top journalism prize in the province. His father was a confidant of premiers and prime ministers. Mr. Hutchison wished to follow his father in his profession, though, happily, he abandoned the pursuit while still a young man.

“The footprints,” he said, “were too big to walk into.”

As a boy, his mother read the newspaper to him. A favourite was the column “Loose Ends,” which included such characters as George Pudbury, a farmer; Mrs. Alfred Noggins, “a lady of stupendous girth, scarlet cheeks, magnificent headgear” who spoke with a Cockney accent; and Horace Snifkin, “a conservative sort of man.” The column also featured the escapades of a boy whose behaviour mirrored his own.

The other characters he recognized as neighbours and Mr. Snifkin as his father, the legendary journalist Bruce Hutchison.

How was it to provide fodder for your father’s output?

“I’d go to school and I’d get kidded. Nothing too serious. There was never anything mean about the columns. They were lighthearted.”

Bob Hutchison belonged to the soccer, rugby and track teams at Oak Bay High, staying in shape through the long daily bicycle commute from the famous family home “in the country” on Rogers Avenue in what was then a rural part of Saanich.

He got a summer job at his father’s newspaper, the Victoria Daily Times.

“I did obituaries and ran around covering the service club meetings. The city editor assigned me those to get me a free lunch. God, it was awful. Four days a week of rubber chicken.”

A provincial champion as a sprinter, and a member of the storied Flying Y track team, he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds at the Canadian Olympic trials to qualify for the 1952 Summer Games at Helsinki.

“It was a wonderful meet,” He said. “Here was little Finland having just shaken off the drudgery of war and having been invaded by the Russians.”

He thrilled to the sight of Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, running the Olympic torch into the stadium; shouted “Nice car!” to the driver of a convertible before realizing the man at the wheel was Prince Philip; and, attended a wild bash at which the host was John (Chick) Turner, the future prime minister.

“Hell of a party,” he recalled.

One of his strongest memories of competing came during a relay heat during which he watched the rear of American runner Harrison (Bones) Dillard as he passed the baton long before he received his own.The Canadians, with Mr. Hutchison running the third leg, were eliminated, while the Americans went on to win the gold medal.

Looking back, he describes himself as a “journeyman sprinter.”

He returned home to complete is studies, eventually graduating with a law degree from the University of British Columbia.

He dipped a toe into politics.

“I used to be a bagman,” he said, “collecting a little money for mayors and aldermen.”

He also managed successful Liberal campaigns, electing Alan Macfarlane as the MLA for Oak Bay in the early 1960s.

A self-effacing fellow, Mr. Hutchison suggests his political connections did not hurt his consideration for appointment to the bench after a career featuring civil litigation. He was named to the County Court of Vancouver Island in 1982, becoming a B.C. Supreme Court justice eight years later.

His father died in 1992. Oxford University Press has reissued three of Bruce Hutchison’s titles in the past 12 months — The Fraser, The Unknown Country, and, last month, The Incredible Canadian, a favourable but revealing biography of Mackenzie King. Each volume includes a trenchant introduction by Vaughn Palmer, the Vancouver Sun political columnist who has won the Bruce Hutchison Award for lifetime achievement in British Columbia journalism.

Bob Hutchison retired six years ago. He does not miss a workday in which he sat in judgment of all before him.

“You can’t even get 50 per cent of your customers to be pleased with you,” he said with a mock sigh.

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