HANSON — The community is mourning the passing of a devoted couple who took an active role in their adopted hometown.
Former Town Master Plan Committee member Bob Sutter and his wife, long-time Water Commissioner Mary Lou Sutter died Thursday, Nov. 17, according to Town Administrator Michael McCue. The Sutters’ family plans to publish an obituary in the Express nest week.
“It took everybody here, as you can imagine, with a great deal of surprise,” McCue said Friday, Nov. 18, recalling a recent discussion he had with Mary Lou regarding her future concerns for the town’s Water Department. “It’s a shock and I’m deeply saddened. They were very kind and supportive of me and I will miss them.”
Mary Lou had served on the Capital Improvement Committee and Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center Director Mary Collins said Mary Lou had also been a dedicated eight-year member of the Friends of the Senior Center, of which she had served as president.
“She just wanted to be involved in her community,” Collins said, noting that when the Sutters moved to Hanson from New York, Mary Lou also became involved in supporting the schools. “This was their town as they aged. It was their choice to be here and they wanted to do as much as they could to be involved.”
Many who worked with them in town government joined Collins and McCue and the Sutters’ family in feeling their loss.
“Absolutely it’s a shock,” said Water Superintendent Richard Muncie said, noting Mary Lou had served as a Water Commissioner from 2003 to Nov 12, 2016. “We had a little celebration for her 13 years, we had a cake and told her how we appreciated all the things she and her husband had done for the whole town.”
“She just wanted to do the best for the town and she was always very positive,” Muncie said.
Selectman Don Howard, who also serves as a water commissioner, said Mary Lou wanted to make sure her post was filled before she retired.
“I don’t know what to say,” Howard said, noting Bob had been calling him recently about the work of the Final Plymouth County Hospital Reuse Committee. “They’ve done a lot for the town of Hanson that people don’t even realize.”
Bob Sutter had served on the original PCH Reuse Committee.
Community Preservation Commission Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett and her husband John Kemmett, a former Planning Board member, had known the Sutters for about 10 years.
“From all outward appearances, it seemed like an unlikely friendship,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We had a 30-plus year age difference and vastly different backgrounds. Despite that, we found no end to the number of things we all enjoyed from woodworking to politics and everything in between.”
She said Mary Lou and Bob left an indelible impression on them. FitzGerald-Kemmett had accompanied Mary Lou to the Nov. 1 Selectmen’s meeting at which she resigned as a Water Commissioner.
“They were a shining example of a life well-led,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “They were incredibly devoted to each other and despite their declining physical health they continuously strived to make a difference in their community and to help others who were less fortunate. We feel so blessed to have had these dear souls in our lives. We take comfort in the fact that neither of them was left to mourn the passing of the other and that they are no longer in any pain.”
Collins said she respected the way the Sutters worked with people of all political beliefs with respect and kindness.
“I will miss her,” Collins said of Mary Lou.
Those who met the Sutters more recently were also affected by their loss.
“I’m shaken to my core,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan. “Deep inside I feel a loss, although I was just starting to get to know them” McGahan said. “We’ve lost two great citizens who contributed a lot to the town and they will be sorely missed.”
McGahan said he had last spoken to Mary Lou at the Nov. 1 Selectmen’s meeting during which she announced her resignation from the Board of Water Commissioners due to health concerns. He and McCue had also recently spent nearly an hour talking with the Sutters following a coffee he hosted at the Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center.
“[Bob] had built a model of Liberty Street and he wanted to show it to me … we never confirmed a date or time frame after that,” McGahan said. “I liked them very much and I thought they were community leaders. These people were ingrained in Hanson’s political life.”
McCue, too, recalled Bob Sutter’s architectural background.
“He had given me a book on architecture and he would bring me architecture magazines he thought I might have interest in that were applicable to municipal issues,” McCue said. “He’d come in and talk about different things the town could do moving forward.”
McGahan also noted that the Sutters had donated the funds to repair the lower-level doors at Town Hall, which are equipped with handicapped access buttons to open the doors for people who use walkers or wheelchairs. He also recalled that Mary Lou made it clear she preferred to be addressed by her first name.
The couple’s support for the failed new Hanson elementary school project as well as for override proposals to fund school budgets was also noted. They were strenuous supporters of the school building project, to the point of suggesting financial assistance programs such as food stamps and tax abatement volunteer work for those on fixed income.
The Sutters firmly believed every generation had a duty to educate their community’s children.
“Mary Lou and Bob Sutter were two very special people who were deeply committed to the Town of Hanson and the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner. “They will be missed and our memories of them cherished as we recall and reflect upon their unselfish contributions of time, energy, and talent to the community and to the school system.”
School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes, a Hanson resident, also lauded the Sutters’ dedication to Hanson.
“Mary Lou and Bob Sutter were probably two of the finest people in the town of Hanson,” Hayes said. “They did an immense amount of volunteer work on several boards and committees and they will be sadly missed.”
He said they were very active in the school system.
“I used to hear from them all the time,” he said. “They believed in education.”