Former Indy Mayor Bill Hudnut dies at 84 

Hudnut and his wife Bev in a still from a recent documentary by WFYI - YOUTUBE VIA WFYI TV
  • Hudnut and his wife Bev in a still from a recent documentary by WFYI
  • YouTube via WFYI TV

Sad news for Indianapolis: Mayor Bill Hudnut has died at the age of 84 after a lengthy illness, family announced today.

Hudnut was mayor of Indianapolis for four terms, from 1976 to 1992. We'll have more extensive comment in days to come, but we'd like to share a few words from the NUVO  archives and from Hudnut himself.

Hudnut wrote of his life, in a statement released today by the family:
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.”

Last August, John Krull wrote about a RFRA-opposing letter penned by five mayors of Indianapolis (Bart Peterson, Richard Lugar, Stephen Goldsmith, Greg Ballard and Hudnut), which said RFRA was doing damage to both the city and the state.

Krull writes:
During the 16 years Hudnut was mayor of Indianapolis from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, Indianapolis stopped being “Indy-a-no-place” to becoming the amateur sports capital of the world and a magnet for conventions and other major events. The downtown, which was a place people fled as soon as the work day was over, sprang back to life. The Colts came to town and the Pacers stayed here.

Along the way, the city created jobs by the truckload. The investment in improving the city’s core – and, yes, Hudnut did raise taxes – made Indianapolis more attractive to both business and labor. People came to Indianapolis and Indiana not because it was the cheapest place to live and do business, but because it was the best place to do so.

The voters rewarded Hudnut’s efforts. His closest election as mayor was his first one. After the city’s citizens got to know him, they sent him back to office three times with support that ranged from 65 percent to 70 percent of the vote. ...

Bill Hudnut’s approach of inviting everyone into the circle of community won him large majorities at a time when Republicans didn’t win races for mayor in big cities, created jobs by the thousands and transformed Indianapolis from a flyover city to a destination
In 2011, those five Indianapolis mayors gathered for a panel on the state of Indianapolis.
"Events are very important," said Hudnut. "The old days of manufacturing are gone and they're not coming back."

Ballard said lucrative spectacles like next year's Super Bowl were nothing if not the cornerstone for the city's financial success.

"The sports strategy has worked," he said. "It has built the foundation."

Every member of the panel cited education as one of the most important factors for sustaining that growth.

"We've expanded into life sciences, biotech, clean and green industry," said Hudnut. "That leads us back to education. That's essential if you're not going to just have two classes of people in this country."
Ed Wenck reviewed a WFYI documentary about Hudnut's life that aired last fall. He notes:
Bill Hudnut, ever cheerful, ever positive, doesn’t look defeated as he remembers watching his party move to the right. As he and Krull mark how the Republican base declared him “too moderate” (a laughable concept, as the film rightly notes), Hudnut looks ever hopeful. In the Mayor’s own words, how does one build a world class city — or a world-class political movement, for that matter?

“Tolerance is important. Inclusivity is important.”
In 2014, we printed Hudnut's memorial for Congressman Andy Jacobs Jr., which Hudnut read at Jacobs' funeral.
It is tempting in a setting like this to focus on what we have lost, but I believe the religion of gratitude will never mislead us so let's focus on the Andy we knew and are grateful for - the wounded warrior who hated war; the man of unblemished integrity; the man of courage and humor and affection.
Mayor Joe Hogsett remembers Hudnut in a statement below:

Memorial services for Hudnut are planned for Indy and Washington, D.C., where he lived for the last several years.


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Katherine Coplen

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