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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: A meeting of the minds on Gospel Island

Calling it a relief to pull off Interstate 75 onto State Road 44 was an understatement. I used to think traffic was only this miserable because it was snowbird season, but it has gone beyond that. Now, it is just miserable, and I-75 in Florida is fast approaching becoming overwhelmed.

Swinging west onto 44 in the direction of Inverness a little more than an hour north of Tampa, you immediately are swept back into an older Florida as the road roughly follows the Withlacoochee River through rural country dotted with lakes and ranches. You go by Joe’s airboat rides and ranches with horses grazing beyond fences.

It’s the kind of road where you can settle back in your car seat and tell your wife this is the way it used to be.

You turn right just before you get to the Hess station and take the road to Gospel Island to get to Hutch’s house.

We were going to see our old friends Al and Jackie Hutchison, who somehow found Gospel Island after more than a few stops over the years, including at least nine different newspapers that Hutch had a hand in running.

One of those papers was Mother Trib, which is where I got to know him some 40-odd years ago. Hutch has had a love-hate relationship with our paper, although now he is back, I think for the third time, writing occasional pieces in our editorial pages.

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Hutch was born in Dundee, Scotland. He was a boy as World War II swept over Europe and even the bucolic life around Dundee, where Nazi bombers were a regular presence in the early months of the war.

His brother, Richard, crashed in a Beaufighter into the North Sea off the coast of Norway. When he washed ashore with his co-pilot, they were eventually captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Only days after being liberated by American troops, he died in a field hospital of pneumonia. He was 24 years old.

Hutch’s father, a ship captain, was told by the British navy he was too old. Instead, he wound up as captain of an American Liberty ship and spent most of the war on the extremely dangerous convoys across the North Atlantic. Imagine the stress on Hutch’s mother with a husband and son “somewhere.”

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In 1946, the family moved to America.

We’ll skip a few decades here, coming to Florida, going through the University of Florida, pausing briefly to note he got his first newspaper job in Hollywood, Calif., before working at nine different papers, including the Clearwater Sun and 15 years as publisher of the Recorder in Greenfield, Mass.

These days he’s holed up on Gospel Island and is station manager of WKIT (We’re Keeping in Touch), an odd sort of fake radio station he operates out of his house. His listeners, some 70 or so souls scattered up and down the East Coast, all get his programs in the mail on CDs. Hutch is into themes, and they are a mix of country, jazz, classic and Celtic, all blended with gossip.

On this trip, we were joined by Jim Head and his wife, Cynthia. Head has one of those resumes you look at in awe in our business. There was a stint with the New York Tribune, another as editor of the Detroit Free Press. He was the founding editor of Florida Today and the editor of Parade magazine, King Features and a handful of others, including The Tampa Tribune.

It was a great couple of hours confirming with ourselves that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and the rest of you people better keep reading newspapers, or else.

After that, convinced we were right, I checked my smartphone, looked at Google, made sure everything was OK on Facebook, climbed into the ottomobile and returned to S.R. 44 on the way to the real world of chaos on I-75 and in Tampa.

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