fb-pixel Skip to main content

Ron Hutson, whose reporting illuminated Boston’s race relations, dies at 72 of coronavirus

Mr. Hutson worked as a reporter on one Pulitzer Prize-winning team and as an editor on another.
Mr. Hutson worked as a reporter on one Pulitzer Prize-winning team and as an editor on another.

As a Boston Globe reporter during the early years of court-ordered busing to desegregate the city’s schools, Ron Hutson examined race relations from a variety of perspectives.

He wrote about the first Black family to live on a particular block in Dorchester’s Codman Hill neighborhood, the last white woman to keep her home on a section of Roxbury’s Julian Street, the racial tension between white and non-white families on South Boston’s Carson Beach, and a Pittsfield neighborhood where most of that city’s Black population had lived for more than a century.

Then there was the 17-year-old white student who defied a boycott and traveled for an hour by bus, subway, and foot from his Dorchester home to attend Roxbury High School in 1974. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came,” he told Mr. Hutson, “but this was just like any other regular school day for me.”

Advertisement



Illuminating ordinary moments that might otherwise go unnoticed amid extraordinary circumstances was a hallmark of Mr. Hutson’s reporting, which was part of the Globe’s coverage of school desegregation that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1975.

Mr. Hutson, who also was an editor on a series that was awarded a Pulitzer in 1984, died April 28 in Morton Hospital in Taunton of COVID-19. He was 72 and had lived in Taunton.

Though his Pulitzer-winning contributions focused on race relations — the 1984 award honored a Globe team for local investigative specialized reporting — Mr. Hutson’s writing ranged widely geographically and in terms of the topics he chose.

“When the sun sets behind Spectacle Mountain in the north Maine woods, the sky lights up and throws a brilliant yellow-orange sheen over the two-mile long glacial lake where wildlife research biologist Roy Hughie and his nine helpers make their camp,” Mr. Hutson wrote in 1978 about efforts to study, restore, and protect the region’s black bear population.

Advertisement



In a 1990 Globe interview for Newspapers in Education Month, Mr. Hutson fielded questions from children who asked what makes someone a good reporter.

Curiosity and an open mind, he replied, “and you simply need to know how to write well.”

To those attributes he might have added one for which he was known in the Globe’s newsroom.

“He was probably the happiest beat reporter — smiling, easy-going, excited,” said Carmen Fields, a former Globe reporter and editor. “But I think that also belied a certain intensity that he brought to the craft and to those around him.”

Fields, whose work after the Globe included co-anchoring the 10 p.m. news on WGBH-TV, Channel 2, with Christopher Lydon, added that she remembered Mr. Hutson “just being happy and thrilled and excited about what he was doing, no matter how pedestrian the assignment was at the time.”

That demeanor also marked Mr. Hutson’s work as an assistant metropolitan editor and night city editor, talking reporters through tough assignments when nailing down a story seemed beyond reach.

“Here’s a guy on the other end of the phone and he was just so up, up and funny that he just lifted every cloud that was hanging over you or any other reporter. It vanished when you were talking with Ron Hutson,” said Walter V. Robinson, a former Globe Spotlight editor.

“He was such a presence. I thought the world of him,” Robinson added. “He was part office optimist, and part Groucho Marx. He had this mischievous sense of humor that just sort of carried everybody.”

Advertisement



The oldest of three children, Ronald Sylvester Hutson was born in New York City on Sept. 21, 1947. His father, Leroy Hutson, was a radio engineer whose parents were from the West Indies. His mother, Ada Jordan, was born in the West Indies and moved to the United States as a teenager.

Mr. Hutson was an infant when his parents moved to Wall Township, N.J., where a cross was burned on their front lawn their second night in their house.

The township had been home to a regional Ku Klux Klan headquarters a decade earlier, a local newspaper reported, and the Hutsons were the first Black family in their neighborhood.

Mr. Hutson played piano when he young and graduated from Brown University before launching his journalism career at the Providence Journal.

He then worked for the Call & Post, a black weekly in Cleveland, and he covered City Hall for the Cleveland Press before joining the staff of the Globe in 1974 as a general assignment reporter.

Mr. Hutson later became “the kind of editor everyone wanted, because he was so engaged and alive early on in the process every day on the story,” Robinson recalled.

Because Mr. Hutson “was a very good writer in his own right,” Robinson added, “he also was a very good word editor. He was one of the best word editors I ever dealt with. He really could make a story a lot better.”

Advertisement



Mr. Hutson’s other Globe duties included working as an editor and reporter on the urban team, editing and writing real estate coverage, and serving as the newspaper’s recruiter, hiring reporters and editors.

His marriage to Phyllis Cunningham, with whom he had a daughter, Amiya of Cleveland, ended in divorce.

He later married Wallinda Jones, with whom he had two daughters, Aja of Taunton and Tia Finn of Norton. That marriage also ended in divorce, as did his marriage to Shu Mei Chen.

Mr. Hutson left the Globe about 17 years ago. He subsequently was an adjunct professor of journalism at Suffolk University and worked with a nonprofit agency. Later on, to indulge his longtime passion for working on cars, Mr. Hutson took a job with JiffyLube.

Mr. Hutson, with his granddaughter Lily.
Mr. Hutson, with his granddaughter Lily.

About a dozen years ago, he suffered various health issues including an apparent stroke, which brought his working years to a close.

“It slowed him down to the point where he spent a lot more time with his family,” his daughter Tia said.

Along with his dedication to journalism, Mr. Hutson had always engaged in vigorous activities ranging from being a memorable first-baseman on the Globe’s softball team to bicycling from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod, a 1978 trip he chronicled for the Globe.

“Hell of a challenge, I thought,” he wrote. “Some people run 26-mile marathons. Some swim the Florida straits. Others jump out of airplanes from thousands of feet in the sky. Certainly I could ride my 10-speed racer to Provincetown, my ego decided.”

Advertisement



Because his various health problems curtailed his physical abilities, he had more time to relax, including with his granddaughters, Kyla and Lily.

“It was a weird silver lining that that was a gift,” Tia said, “that we all got to spend more time with him.”

In addition to his daughters and granddaughters, Mr. Hutson leaves his two sisters, Sandra of Boston and Diane Hutson Scott of West Orange, N.J.

A service will be announced after crowd limitations mandated for health safety reasons are lifted.

As Mr. Hutson’s health failed in Taunton’s Morton Hospital due to COVID-19, and he was on a ventilator, medical personnel let Tia and her husband, Daniel Finn visit a final time, dressed head to toe in protective equipment.

“When I first went in, he felt kind of tense when I held his hand. He very much calmed down and I saw his face relax,” Tia recalled. “I brought in pictures of my family and my daughters and he was able to hold them.”

Mr. Hutson died in the early hours of April 28. Nurses and doctors told Tia that when they realized the end was close, they “went in and held hands and held his hands.”

He was a devoted Bob Marley fan, so in those last minutes the medical personnel played Marley’s “Three Little Birds” for Mr. Hutson, Tia said, “and they told him how much we loved him.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.