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Remembering Ron Hutson, a great mentor

Ron Hutson.
Ron Hutson.

When I was a young reporter at the Globe, I spent a lot of time in Ron Hutson’s office.

At the time — this was 1989 — Ron was in charge of recruiting and hiring for the newsroom. I was a new hire from Miami facing the daunting task of learning a new city and a new newsroom, one assignment at a time.

And Hutson couldn’t have been a more generous, or fun, mentor. By then, he’d been a reporter and editor at the Globe for years, his Boston baptism having come working as one of the Globe’s handful of Black reporters covering the fiery days of court-ordered school desegregation in 1974.

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We talked about assignments: who to call, or not to call. We talked about what made a story successful, and how to write a story that would make it onto the front page. He was the person I could ask the rookie questions I didn’t want to ask my editors.

And the thing is, he seemed to do this with dozens of reporters, all the time.

Once, after deadline, he asked how a story I’d written had turned out. In truth, not as well as I’d hoped.

“I guess it was OK,” I muttered.

Hutson regarded me over his wire-rim glasses. “We’re not trying to put out an ‘OK’ newspaper here, sir!” His standards for the Globe were high, just as his affection for the place was boundless.

Hutson died recently of COVID-19, at 72. He was recalled, rightly, as a talented writer, a gifted editor, and a great colleague. He was certainly all of those things. But he was something else, a great mentor, especially important to Black and Latino reporters starting out.

Hutson helped hire us, helped us find our footing, and never stopped cheering for us. In the office and often outside of it too, he was always there.

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My pal Diego Ribadeneira was a summer intern when he first met Hutson in the 1980s, and they quickly bonded.

“He was great in terms of helping me focus and understanding what readers wanted to know and how to put a news story together, and how to be accurate,” said Ribadeneira, now an editor at The New York Times. “He was demanding, for sure, on the job. And outside of work, he was a fun person to be with.”

Michael Frisby remembers Hutson the same way. He was a co-op student from Northeastern when Hutson took him under his wing.

“What set Ron apart was that he knew the streets,” Frisby told me. “I got to do stories because they didn’t have anyone to send into the [housing] projects. There were only a handful of Black reporters back then. Ron was one of the editors who knew the community.”

Frisby would go on to cover the White House for the Globe and The Wall Street Journal.

Hutson taught him how to craft his first stories, often in one-on-one sessions in the conference room. “Ron made a point of making sure that young Black reporters like myself had every opportunity to succeed,” Frisby said. “He took pride that the kid he used to lay out in the conference room became a real journalist.”

Back in the day, we didn’t really have diversity committees, and no one walked around making speeches about representation or equity. What we had, instead, was a handful of committed people who had found a way in, and were determined to see others like them walk through that door. Hutson was at the front of that line.

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Hutson was no saint. In fact, he abhorred the sanctimonious — when he wasn’t laughing at them — and considered journalism a place for rebels. He would insist I mention here that he had an eye for attractive women, and a taste for rum. It would insult his memory to turn him into a plaster saint, and annoy him greatly.

But you never forget certain people. The ones who thought that with time and direction — one of Hutson’s favorite words — maybe you could eventually be good. Their deeds outlast their lives.

Thanks for everything, Ron.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.