When she first called Andy Hutchins about joining the board of KidSport Cowichan as vice chair, Deb Savory-Wright’s conversation went a little like this:
“I was wondering if you’d be interested…” Savory-Wright started, after asking him if he had heard about the organization, which provides funds that help kids play sports.
“Yep,” came Hutchins’s answer.
“But I was wondering if you’d be interested in being vice chair,” Savory-Wright continued.
“I already said yes,” Hutchins finished.
Hutchins served on the board, with Savory-Wright as chair, for the next 10 years, until his death on Friday, May 21, at the age of 71.
A titan in the Cowichan Valley sports community and well beyond, Hutchins was respected for his reliability and dedication to any number of causes. He was active in many ways right up to his final years.
“Everyone slows down, but apparently not Andy,” said friend and Maple Bay neighbour Annie McGeachy.
Hutchins was one of the first people McGeachy met when she moved to the Cowichan Valley with her family in 1971. He played sports with her late husband, Joe, and their kids grew up together.
An import himself, Hutchins was born in England and came to Canada as a kid. He graduated from Cowichan Secondary School, where he played rugby for the school team.
Beyond school, his involvement in rugby took him to the Cowichan Rugby Football Club, where he rose through the ranks from the juniors to the seniors, then served as a supporter and advisor after his playing days. He was a player on and one of the leaders of the club’s lone overseas trip, a tour of the U.K. by the Third Division Piggies in 1985.
It wasn’t just rugby. Hutchins played juvenile football with the Cowichan Timbermen. He was a founding member and past-president of the Maple Bay Rowing Club, and supported his wife, Kathleen, in organizing the annual regatta on Quamichan Lake for 35 years.
Hutchins was instrumental in the creation and expansion of the Cowichan Sportsplex and a board member for many years, a board member for KidSport and the North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame, and was involved with the BC Seniors Games when they were held in the Cowichan Valley in 2005.
When the proposed facility that became the Cowichan Aquatic Centre was put to a referendum, Hutchins worked behind the scenes to rally the votes to make it happen.
Basically, Hutchins would do anything to keep sports alive and to help out in his community.
“He was happy to cook burgers if that’s what we asked him to do,” McGeachy said. “He always knew what we needed to do. He thought five or six steps farther down the road than anyone else.”
Hutchins’s involvement in the community went beyond sports. He was a member of the Maple Bay Volunteer Fire Department for nearly 50 years, including a lengthy stint as chief, as well as an advisor to the Fire Commissioner of B.C. and an instructor at the Justice Institute. When he wasn’t volunteering or spending time with his family, Hutchins worked at the Crofton pulp mill, climbing the ranks from apprentice instrument tech.
In 2012, Hutchins was awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, presented to people who have made significant contributions to their country, province, territory, region or community.
Savory-Wright knew Hutchins before the fated phone call that brought them together as the leadership of KidSport Cowichan — “If you were involved in the community, your paths would cross,” she said — but she got to know him better as they worked closely together, the two of them reviewing the vast majority of applications for aid from KidSport.
“He was an amazing man,” she said. “He made us do better. He kept us on our toes.
“Andy was a generous man. He would give and share his knowledge and time and love for the community and ways to give back. He reminded us of why we do the things we do.”
Jim Dias was a longtime friend of Hutchins’s, dating back to when they met at a high school track meet in the early 1960s.
“He was definitely one of the good ones,” Dias said. “A great guy. A great supporter of the community.”
Dias and Hutchins played football together, and Dias also remembered Hutchins as a golfer and, for a short time, at least, a rec hockey player — a big body on the ice, if not the most skilled on skates.
Hutchins also surprised some people with his talents as a classical pianist.
“There’s this great big, rough-and-tumble guy playing rugby and football,” Dias recalled. “And he could also tickle the ivories.”
Like Dias, Chris Mann played football with Hutchins — part of a group that has remained close in the decades since. Mann recalled that Hutchins’s nickname for him — “Melon” — transferred on to his wife (Mrs. Melon) and daughter (Little Melon) as his family expanded.
“Andy always had some kind of derogatory remark [in jest] to say, even before he said hi,” Mann laughed. “He could talk about anything. Look at all the sports and all the other things he was involved in. He was always behind the scenes, but he did voice his opinion, no doubt about that.”
In recent years, Hutchins developed kidney issues related to diabetes. He was on the list for a transplant, but that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He ended up on home dialysis and developed heart issues. He died at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria last week.
In addition to his wife, Kathleen, he is survived by his daughters, Andrea and Jodi, and a massive extended family that includes his brother, Cowichan Valley school trustee and former Ladysmith mayor and Cowichan Valley Regional District chair Rob Hutchins.
Hutchins had recently become a great-grandfather for the first time, something of which he was intensely proud.
“We lost one of the good guys,” McGeachy said. “He was always a leader. You could count on him if he said yes. He made things happen. He’s going to be missed here. It’s a cliché, but in this case it’s true: it was a life well-lived.”