By Andi TenBarge
CHEVY CHASE, Maryland — Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut passed away Saturday evening after years of battling throat cancer and congestive heart failure.
“On behalf of our family, I would like to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and support during this difficult time. It was a real gift to Bill that he had an opportunity to hear how much he meant to family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors — and to the communities he served — through your notes, cards, letters, personal visits and comments on his CaringBridge posts,” said his wife, Beverly Hudnut.
Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut died at age 84.
CaringBridge, a website for personal health journals, served as Hudnut’s outlet to share updates about his condition and reflect on his time in public service. In his last post to the site, “My Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” Hudnut asks family, friends and fellow Hoosiers to not mourn his death rather celebrate and remember him as someone who “cared about people.”
“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,” Hudnut wrote. “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.”
Memorial services are still in the works for the former mayor and senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. The family said they plan to hold two public services in Washington D.C. and Indianapolis.
“Bill Hudnut was a one-of-a-kind leader whose faith, leadership and boundless enthusiasm inspired all of us who knew him,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement Sunday. “We send our love and prayers out to Beverly, his family, friends and all who mourn this uniquely gifted man.”
In 2015, reporters with TheStatehouseFile.com in collaboration with WFYI visited Bill and Beverly Hudnut to discuss Bill’s reflections of his time as a mayor, congressman, and pastor in Indianapolis.
Hudnut’s time as Mayor
“Let us reason together,” was his mantra.
Standing 6’5” and blessed with a larger-than-life persona, Hudnut is remembered by Hoosiers as the man responsible for making “India-No-Place” into “India-Show-Place.”
In the 1960s, the Circle City came to life during the month of May for the Indianapolis 500 and, much of the world thought, then fell back to sleep for the rest of the year.
Hudnut, a Republican, set out to give the sleepy city an image of vitality after he was elected in 1976 and his legacy would carry on long after he finished his fourth term ended in 1992. A couple key accomplishments include bringing the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis and making the Circle City the Pacers’ permanent home.
“He ensured that Indianapolis would not be a one-act play,” said Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and Hudnut’s first campaign manager. “By the time he left office, there was no question that Indianapolis was a happening city.”
Hudnut said former Indianapolis Mayor and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar set the stage for him to help stimulate the city’s growth. Lugar was the architect behind Unigov that merged the governments of Indianapolis and Marion County.
“I mean Dick Lugar was crafting Unigov way back when in the ‘60s and without that we wouldn’t have had the platform we had for the emergence of the modern Indianapolis,” Hudnut said.
Hudnut used sports to leverage economic development and public innovation. City officials wanted to use the state’s central geographic location and commitment to sports to its advantage. Indianapolis soon became the amateur sports capital of the world.
But he said in a radio interview in 2014 that he found his greatest victories in the smaller moments.
He had a knack for bringing people together to meet challenges. Hudnut believed if he could keep people together long enough, they would be able to resolve differences and make progress.
Hudnut took a stab at the 11th District seat in Congress in 1972. He ran against Andy Jacobs, a Democrat, during both campaigns.
The two men became friends. This friendship often surprised people during their campaigns against each other. It was common to see the two arrive together to a debate, debate against each other and then leave together telling each other jokes.
Andy Jacobs died in 2013.
“Andy just liked him,” said Andy Jacobs’ widow, Kimberly Jacob. “When they were together, they could share a story, they knew a lot of the same people, they laughed a lot and they trusted each other.”
Kim Jacobs described Hudnut and Jacobs as “brilliant men.”
“They had a very big picture,” she said. “Brilliant people can usually see two or three decisions down the line and they could see that if A and B went together, then C and D would result. I think that will be Bill’s legacy.”
The former mayor’s legacy to bring people to the common table and discuss issues lasted long after his political career. After the Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law in 2015, Hudnut wanted to make his voice heard on the matter.
The uproar came days after Hudnut released information the public about his health conditions. That made him and his wife, Beverly, concerned about speaking out.
Beverly Hudnut had the idea to have the four living previous mayors – Lugar, Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Bart Peterson – and the then-current mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, sign a letter expressing their concerns about RFRA. Hudnut led that initiative.
“Hudnut amidst his illness and infirmity could take that initiative and bring about those results was truly remarkable,” former mayor and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar said.
Former Indiana Gov. and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh remembered Hudnut as a man who was “old school” in the way that he didn’t put politics or partisanship before the people of Indianapolis.
“We all belong to political parties, but that’s not the most important thing,” Bayh said. “The most important thing is what do you do to help other people and that’s the kind of public servant Bill Hudnut always was.”
Before running for mayor, Hudnut practiced as a senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis from 1964 to 1972. His congregation was known for its moderate stance on social issues of the 1960s. But he said he didn’t believe in using his personal theology to make policy decisions.
“I did not believe in wearing my religion on my sleeve,” Hudnut said. “When I was invited to preach, I tried my best not to talk about politics. And when I asked in public to give the grace at an event, I would respectfully decline because I didn’t want to mix the two.”
Hudnut’s Mark in Indianapolis
The northwest corner of Maryland Street and Capitol Avenue was renamed “Hudnut Commons” in December 2014 to remember the legacy he left in Indianapolis. A life-sized spitting image of Hudnut seated on a bench with his legs crossed and ready to discuss issues.
Beverly Hudnut recalled the dedication of the statue as an experience of overwhelming gratitude.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Beverly said. “Every time we’ve gone back — aside from the people who donated the funds for the statue — you run into in the restaurants to the doormen at the hotel and the people you run into on the street and feel genuine gratitude and affection for my husband for what he did on behalf of Indianapolis means a lot.”
For Hudnut, the city of Indianapolis remained a constant passion.
“It’s part of my heart and part of my life,” Hudnut said.
Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.