This weekend I was busy being the Good Spouse (TM). I’m okay with that.
Bryon has a mentor figure in his life who looms large, a gentleman named Wilbert Hutton. Dr. Hutton was Bryon’s chemistry adviser during Bryon’s time at Iowa State, and they both shared an almost insatiable love of Jim Henson’s muppets. As a matter of fact, Bryon and some of his friends built imitations of the muppets and spent a good chunk of their high school and college careers doing shows with them. Bryon and our friend Paul were actually good enough that they were invited to audition for Henson after college, but Bryon decided he’d rather be a high school teacher, rather than a puppeteer. You know, for the glory. 😉
So, Bryon and Dr. Hutton shared this love of muppets, and Dr. Hutton was a demonstration chemist, among other things. He suggested to Bryon that the two of them coordinate their mutual talents and liven up the old chemistry magic show (mix things together, watch them fizz and/or turn colors and/or explode) with the muppet performances. This they did, and the chemistry magic shows were easily the most popular attractions at the 1981-1985 VEISHA festivals. And the Iowa State chem students were invited to take their show on the road to the international ACS conference in that time frame as well.
This was mostly before my time. I helped with lights in the last incarnation of the show. Dr. Hutton never knew quite what to make of the English member in the chem club, but really, I wasn’t trained to make things blow up, so lights, that was good.
We have visited Dr. Hutton and Mrs. Hutton in Denver a few times, when they retired there. Their many attempts to get us to call them Marilyn and Bill have been doomed to failure. Mrs. Hutton liked to lure us to exotic restaurants her friends wouldn’t go to. Bryon and Dr. Hutton would reminisce about how much fun they had doing the demonstrations. Dr. Hutton was one of the few people in my life who knew what the life of a PhD was like, and he treated me very seriously once I had made that voyage.
When Bryon received the call last week that Dr. Hutton was in hospice, I was kicking myself. We knew from their Christmas card that they had moved into Elder Care, and we knew that Dr. Hutton’s health was deteriorating. I should have been forceful over spring break. We should have driven out to Denver to see him, so Bryon could have that last visit. But no, we decided to wait until the summer. And that was a mistake.
Dr. Hutton passed away Friday morning. We found the picture that the whole chemistry demonstration group had taken of themselves interspersed with the muppets among our old college scrapbooks, as well as an article about Bryon and Dr. Hutton in the campus paper. Bryon scanned them and sent them off for the memorial that the American Chemical Engineering journal will be doing about Dr. Hutton. Bryon’s been down, and a little weepy. Small wonder. He’s just lost a second father in two years.
Yesterday, we went to Iowa State. We walked around Gilman Hall, where Bryon had spent most of his time with the man, and reminisced around the campus. Bryon went to the Freshmen chem office and cried against the door, unable to get in any further. That was the best we could do. There will be no memorial service, I guess. But I thought that putting him close to the spiritual space where they had spent time together, well, that would help.
Of course, there were students all over the campus. Some were studying, some playing quidditch (!), others getting ready for VEISHEA in two weeks, painting giant displays. We looked at Christian Petersen sculptures, and reminisced about our days on campus, when I was a freshman thirty years ago. Our friends Mark and Michelle who had come along were very patient with us.
I thought Dr. Hutton would have loved to be walking around campus. The great teaching continuity, the way students and teachers and students and teachers are linked throughout the generations makes me believe that at least Iowa State has a life, and all of us are links in a chain. Even if we’ve never touched the link, we are connected to it. That’s why we could find the man’s presence there, even though he himself hasn’t been there for 20 years or so.
I would like for the world to know, since I can’t tell Dr. Hutton this personally, that I am so glad he was part of Bryon’s life, and had such a role in making Bryon the man I know, supporting both art and science in him at the same time. I also want him to know that I admire how many people his life touched, and how many ripples his time here will always send out into the world, even if people don’t know him.
That’s my idea of a well-lived life.