Sunday, December 18, 2016

In Memoriam: Bill Hudnut, 1932-2016

Mayor Bill Hudnut
1932-2016
What do you say about a man like Bill Hudnut? I could write all day and still probably come up short.  When you measure the impact of all of this city's post Unigov mayors, one stands above the rest.  
In fact, it could be argued that his impact stands above all Indianapolis mayors.

Bill Hudnut is now gone.

It's so very fitting that the statue of Hudnut that sits in Hudnut Commons on the park bench at the corner of Capitol and Maryland Streets is larger-than-life because that's the kind of figure Hudnut was here in this city for his time as Mayor of Indianapolis.  He transcended party and politics.  Almost everybody loved Mayor Bill.

After sweeping in to office in Congress in 1972 by defeating iconic Andrew Jacobs, Jr., two years later, partially because of the Watergate backlash, Hudnut was home again after being defeated by Jacobs for reelection.  He ran for Mayor in 1975, and he was elected.  He succeeded Richard Lugar.

In his first term, Hudnut was tested and forever bonded with his city because of his leadership through the destructive Blizzard of 1978.  Hudnut actually climbed aboard heavy machinery and helped remove the snow.  It was an image I was too young to remember, but my parents would never forget.

Beyond leading this city through that crisis, Hudnut turned his attention towards the future.  His vision built the Hoosier Dome and attracted the Colts to town.  His vision expanded the convention center.  His vision turned urban blight eventually into the Circle Centre Mall.

Hudnut transformed the Circle City's image from "India-no-place" to a world-class amateur sports city that was in the world eye for more than just one day.  He brought the National Sports Festival here in 1982.  Hudnut successfully steered the Pam-Am Games to Indianapolis in 1987.

In 1990, Hudnut decided to try to run for Indiana Secretary of State.  Hudnut entered the campaign as the heavy favorite, but he lost to Joe Hogsett.  Hogsett, of course, would later become Mayor of Indianapolis in his own right.  By the time 1991 rolled around, Hudnut decided to eschew a fifth-term run.

When Hudnut finally turned the keys of the city over to Stephen Goldsmith in 1992, Indianapolis was moving forward having successfully navigated the urban decay and fate of many Midwestern cities in the 1970's and 1980's.  The work since Hudnut has been done by others, but his fingerprints and his vision remain right at the center.  Indianapolis is always the undersized city punching up.

While Hudnut the Mayor was larger than life, Hudnut the man couldn't have been more different.  A humble man of God and minister by trade, Hudnut took joy in his family and friendships.  Hudnut had a human touch and will be remembered for that as well.

Hudnut penned a final web post posted on the Caring Bridge website.  In death, as in life, Bill Hudnut always shared his vision and demonstrated great class.
My Valediction Forbidding Mourning
William H. Hudnut III


One cannot choose how one finishes the race, only how one runs it. I would not have chosen a long, slow slide into complete heart failure, but I tried to cope with it with “gaiety, courage and a quiet mind,” to borrow from my mother who in turn was quoting Robert Louis Stevenson. 
It has often been remarked that life is a journey, not a destination. About the destination, “I believe, Lord, help thou mine unbelief.” I leave this earthly life at peace, with faith and trust in a future that will carry me beyond the bourne of space and time, but also with wariness of plotting the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. There is much I cannot fathom about the afterlife. Will there be recognition? What part of me, if any, survives? Forever, or just until I am forgotten? A little reverent agnosticism seems to be in order, because “now we see through a glass darkly.” More positively, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” 
About the journey, it’s been a wonderful trip. As I have said many times, I hope my epitaph will read: “He built well and he cared about people.” 
I have tried to lead a useful life. Of course, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve displayed some real shortcomings and caused some hurts along the way. I’m sorry. But overall, I look back with gratitude. I have been blessed in so many ways—by my loving wife Beverly for more than a quarter century; by my chances to move from a one-room schoolhouse in the cornfields of Illinois to graduate school in New York City; by living in America, and spending most of my professional career in Indianapolis; by having a beautiful cottage in the serenity of the Adirondack mountains; by manifold opportunities to lead a life of service and usefulness, as mayor, congressman, Presbyterian clergyman, academic, think tank fellow; and by the people in my life like doctors, staff, academics, co-workers, (certain!) media types, political allies (and adversaries!), church members, fellow citizens who have worked with me and wished me well across the years. There’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We’re all indebted to others, a point I always tried to make whenever some thoughtful recognition like Hudnut Commons would come my way. 
In my last years, I have become deeply aware of the love from family and friends and well-wishers with which I have been surrounded. Starting with my wife Beverly, I think about my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Also, I think about my cousins (ranging from 90 down to infancy), my parents and siblings and other relatives in our family circle. I cherish the affection and support of friends too numerous to count. I have appreciated the posts on the CaringBridge website expressing appreciation, encouragement, and loving concern. I can’t be sure, but it seems as though great love must endure. I depart this life believing with St. Paul (I Cor. 13): “Love can outlast anything; it still stands when all else has fallen.” 
As Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote, “O Lord, support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done, and then in Thy great mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”
Safe travels, Mr. Mayor.  Thank you for everything.

William H. Hudnut III leaves us at 84.