Take a sad song and make it better

Katy Hutchison's husband, Bob, was beaten to death. It was New Year's Eve 1997 in their safe, residential community of Squamish, B.C. She tells his story to school audiences across North America.

Katy Hutchison’s husband, Bob, was beaten to death.

It was New Year’s Eve 1997 in their safe, residential community of Squamish, B.C.

She tells his story to school audiences across North America – more than 500 and counting.

She tells how she watched him walk down their driveway to their neighbour’s place. The father was away and the son was having a party. Bob Hutchison was going to shut it down.

She tells how she called out to him as he walked on the snow, urging him to “hurry back.”

She tells how he got to the top of the neighbour’s steps where he was confronted by a big, angry, 220-pound teenager.

She tells how they didn’t really say anything to each other before the teenager threw a punch, knocking Bob out.

She tells how a second, smaller teenager then joined in, kicking Bob’s head four times, in a way he later described as the way you’d kick a soccer ball.

She tells how none of the 150 kids at the party called 911 as the artery that carried blood to Bob’s brain was severed, causing a massive brain hemorrhage.

He died on their neighbour’s bedroom floor.

It took nearly five years and an undercover RCMP investigation for Hutchison to find out these details.

That was long after the horrible New Year’s Day when she had to tell her four-year-old twins their father was dead. Long after she’d moved her family out of the community. And long after she’d had to make up her own mind about how to deal with her anger.

All her husband’s killer remembered was being drunk and angry, she later discovered as she sat across from him in a prison meeting room, handing the sobbing teenager balls of Kleenex.

Hutchison could have been angry too, she said.

But she chose not to be.

“Anger is a short-term emotion that’s important, but that has a short life span,” she said. “If people don’t learn to deal with their anger, it consumes people and will manifest in some kind of anti-social behaviour … substance issues, violence, self-harm, gambling issues, depression, the list goes on.

“It’s when we do not find a healthy outlet for our anger, a place to release it, that’s when it becomes difficult – when we stuff it down and hold onto it. It’s an emotion that’s meant to move through us, not consume us.

“My children lost their father that night, I didn’t want them to lose me. It would have been so easy for me to have adopted the position of vengeance and hatred, but what kind of parent would I have been to my children?

“I wanted to be the best mom possible and the only way I knew how to do that was by opening my heart up really, really wide and being available to my children, and that also meant giving up the hope for a better past and forgiving (the teen that killed her husband).

“It’s about choosing and realizing that in every situation, while we can’t chose what happens to us, we can always, always choose how we’re going to respond.”

Since 2003, Hutchison has been touring schools across Canada and the United States to tell what she calls the “story of Bob.” She sees herself starting the discussion about things kids really need to talk openly about like mob-mentality and peer pressure, drinking and drug-use, forgiveness, moving past trauma and dealing with their anger.

Travelling from school to school and reminding herself of her dead husband and the brutal way he was killed is tiring, she admits, but it’s worth it.

“It’s important. I believe that every time I tell the story, I plant a seed in some young brain that may help make a better decision. So that’s what keeps me coming back.”

Response to her presentation has ranged from teens telling her about how it helped them make a better decision that Friday night or how, years later, the “story of Bob” came up in their minds and helped them see life through a different lens.

“I feel really privileged to have been able to find a way to talk to youth,” she said “There’s an enormous power to personal story and I’ve learned a lot. I just think young people have such potential and they are the harbours of hope in our communities. And it’s so important for this to be a community dialogue.”

Hutchison will tell her story to Yukoners next week.

She’ll speak at the St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction on Monday and the Porter Creek Secondary School on Tuesday.

On Wednesday she’ll be at Yukon College at noon and at F.H. Collins Secondary at 2 p.m. In the evening she’ll give a public presentation at 7 p.m. She will also speak at Vanier Catholic Secondary on Thursday morning.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at