Doug Hutchins

Doug Hutchins
Doug Hutchins between his daughters Denise Fleming, Anne Gilbert-Rolfe; sons Doug Hutchins, Jr. and Harold Hutchins
The Way We Were - Doug Hutchins

Doug Hutchins

As a young Lakeshore teen, Doug Hutchins never dreamed that riding a bus every day with Jacksonville Mayor John T. Alsop was the beginning of what would be lifelong ties to city government.

Hutchins, 89, may be the only person still living to have had unique professional and personal relationships with Florida governor Cecil Farris Bryant and four of Jacksonville’s best known mayors: John T. Alsop, W. Haydon Burns, Hans Tanzler, Jr., and Jake Godbold.

“As a teenager, I rode the bus at 6:30 every morning from Lakeshore to my part-time job at Winn & Lovett Grocery Warehouse on Beaver Street, which later became Winn Dixie,” Hutchins said. “When the bus stopped at Herschel Street and San Juan Avenue, Mayor Alsop got on and sat beside me. We talked about everything.”

Because the mayor didn’t hold a driver’s license or own a car, Hutchins got to know him well during the early 1940s. Mayor Alsop told Hutchins a church would be built on Talbot Avenue at Herschel Street. A few years later, after he returned home from a hitch in the Navy, he discovered Avondale United Methodist Church had been built on that corner. It was a church that would later become his spiritual home in 2005.

Born in Mississippi, Hutchins moved to Jacksonville with his mother, LaBelle “Belle” Wilson Hutchins after she divorced his father, James M. Hutchins. Hutchins was 13 when his mother moved him and his siblings – Thomas Edwin “Tank”, George, Dorothy Jane and LaMercedes – to a home on Fremont Avenue.

The Way We Were - Doug Hutchins

Doug entering the military in 1942

In 1942, with World War II raging, Hutchins decided to join the military. He was only 16.

“I knew I wasn’t old enough, but that didn’t stop me. I had my Wiggins, Mississippi birth certificate dated May 23, 1925, but it was wrong. I was born in 1926,” he said. “When I handed it to the recruiter he just looked at me and didn’t say anything. I worked as a machinist mate three years in the Pacific and my last year in Okinawa. They called us the Black Gang because we were filthy with dirt from our work.”

After his discharge from the military, Hutchins headed back to Robert E. Lee High School, graduating in 1947.

Hutchins attended the University of Florida for two years but left to work at Seaboard Airline Railroad in Jacksonville. He worked 16- to 18-hour days as a locomotive engineer for 10 years, and is a past local chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Union.

Hutchins was briefly married to Genevieve Higgenbotham, a Jacksonville native from Wesconnett. They lived in Murray Hill and had a daughter, Anne, before divorcing in 1950. Hutchins has a grandson and great-granddaughter by Anne.

In 1953, Hutchins married Elaine Helton at Woodlawn Baptist Church. They bought a home on Ernest Street, then moved to Cedar Hills before settling on Talbot Avenue in 1963. The couple had three children: Doug, Jr., Harold, and Denise. Hutchins’ extended family includes four grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

The Way We Were - Doug Hutchins

1953 Wedding

Elaine graduated from high school in 1939 and served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during WWII. She taught Sunday School and Bible Studies for 35 years at Avondale Baptist Church.

“We grew up attending Avondale Baptist. Every Sunday evening the youth group, about 30 kids, came over. My parents opened our home to all our friends. It was a loving, welcoming place. Mom usually made hot dogs or pizza,” said Hutchins’ daughter, Denise Fleming. “Our favorite games were “Who Put Mustard on the Hot Dog,” or playing Cork Ball in the street with a ball made of corks and tape. My brothers, just 11 months apart, shared friends. Jack Milne says he was at our house more than his own.”

Summer vacations were spent at the family’s summer home on Silver Lake in Keystone Heights, where the Hutchins family enjoyed fishing on the lake, cleaning and cooking their catch for dinner. They also water-skied behind their 16-foot motorboat.

“The Flakes lived next door in Keystone Heights. Their daughter Audrey was a little older than Doug Jr. She was a Cypress Gardens water-skier who taught us all to water-ski,” Hutchins said. Denise recalled riding on the front of Audrey’s water-skis when she was three years old.

Close to Gainesville, Hutchins also often took in games at the University of Florida, his alma mater.

When his sons joined Woodlawn Baptist Boy Scout Troop 55, Hutchins was Scoutmaster. When they liked golf, Hutchins drove them to West Meadows Golf Course early and picked them up late. Despite Doug Jr.’s assertion that he’s a “retired golf bum,” both Hutchins brothers are excellent golfers, according to their family.

“Doug Jr. practiced his golf swing in our living room in front of a huge mirror above the fireplace. Any time he hit furniture, mother saw every mark. Once while practicing outside, he accidentally let go, and his club ended up over on Edgewood Avenue. True story,” Denise said.

The family also took cross country car trips to national parks and monuments. In 1962, they began vacationing in the mountains of Sky Valley, Georgia.

In 1961 Hutchins was appointed Jacksonville Constable by his old friend Gov. Cecil Farris Bryant and was elected to the position nine months later. Hutchins was among the last to serve as Constable, a police officer/investigative position, which was eliminated in Florida in 1973.

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Hutchins’ son, Doug Jr., attended Robert E. Lee High School. In fact, he had the same chemistry teacher as his father, Dorothy Thomas.

“Mrs. Thomas taught both of us chemistry at Lee. She taught me in 1971, and she still remembered teaching my dad back in the Forties,” said Doug Jr.

The Way We Were - Doug Hutchins

Doug and Elaine, 2008

Hutchins’ career and personal life merged in 1973 when his sister, LaMercedes Hutchins Woodard married then-Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler. Hutchins laughs, recalling his unofficial job title was the “Mayor’s brother-in-law.”

From 1968 to 1980 Hutchins worked as a division chief under Duval County Engineer John Crosby. He selected sites and managed construction of five vehicle inspection stations. In 1980 he served as HUD Division Chief and then as City of Jacksonville Division Chief of the motor pool until 1987.

Having served under four consecutive mayors – W. Haydon Burns, Lou Ritter, Hans Tanzler, and Jake Godbold, for whom Hutchins was working when he retired in 1987.

From the early 1960s until 2005, the Hutchins owned a condo and built three homes, but everything changed in 2005 when Elaine suffered a heart attack.

“We returned to Talbot Avenue and lived with our son Doug Jr., across from our original home, now owned by our younger son Harold and his wife Debbie,” Hutchins said. “In 2011, Elaine died of cancer at 88.”   

Prior to Elaine’s death, the Hutchins had been married for 58 years and shared everything. Theirs was a love story still evident in many ways. They loved flowers, gardening together and their Faithful Friends Sunday School Class. Elaine made delicious mayhaw jelly, sewed and knitted beautiful cable-knit sweaters for Hutchins, which he still wears. The elegant labels he ordered for her to put in her creations read, “Handmade by Elaine Hutchins.” They provide memories, which her family cherishes.

On May 23, the man who “loves a party” will celebrate his 90th birthday with family and friends. Being alive and in the company of his loved ones is the greatest gift of all, he said.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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