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Bill Cutler remembered for his service to mankind

Bill and Dotty Cutler brought joy to many with their Christmas decorations, but their service went beyond the season.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2009)

Bill and Dotty Cutler brought joy to many with their Christmas decorations, but their service went beyond the season.

He left town four years ago, but the Rotary bell still sits atop a post he planted in the front yard.

Bill Cutler devoted 50 years to the international organization that provides humanitarian services and promotes goodwill. The bell is perhaps its best-known symbol.

And if anyone ever personified Rotary's mission and its high ethical standards, it was Bill Cutler.

Quiet and kind and whip-smart, he combined business contacts and a higher calling to improve the lives of hundreds of crippled children. All this from the modest home in the Beacon Woods subdivision of western Pasco County where every December that Rotary bell got lost among thousands of twinkling lights and mechanical cartoon characters he created in his garage.

Caravans of cars turned down the usually quiet Western Circle each Christmas season for nearly three decades to marvel at Bill and Dotty Cutler's wonderland. The couple stood outside in Santa hats and handed candy canes to wide-eyed children.

Every year meant more lights, more creations, and the Cutlers' leadership inspired others on the block to decorate their homes, spread the cheer.

Most of those motorists had no idea how far their generosity extended beyond the season. Dotty volunteered at the local library and for various community causes. Bill gathered his fellow Hudson Rotarians for a program that sent wheelchairs to Barbados for poor crippled children and some adults who had suffered from the country's unusually high rate of diabetes.

He owned a shipping business that delivered building materials out of Miami and became friends with a customer who told him about efforts by Rotarians and Lions Club members in the West Indies island. Cutler and Hudson Rotary went to work and over several years raised funds and delivered more than 300 wheelchairs.

"The best part of the project is the look of joy and pride on the faces of those who have received the chairs and are now able to become part of society,'' Cutler said.

We talked about the program four years ago as Bill and Dotty got ready for another Christmas. They had been married 71 years and slowed by age, but they still managed to string some lights and set out some of the characters.

Bill had suffered some heart issues, but they were upbeat and devoted to their two sons and daughters-in-law, six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. We ran a photograph of the Cutlers on the front page in their Santa caps. He sent me a note: "You've made two ordinary people feel like celebrities.''

Two weeks later, Dotty fell ill and died at age 89. Bill was devastated and soon moved to an independent living facility near family in Texas.

He gave all the Christmas decorations to his son Bill Jr. in Jacksonville, where the local newspaper wrote about them.

He kept sharp and continued to work as an exporter to Barbados until 2012. He worked at his long-time woodworking hobby, using a jigsaw to make fancy wooden boxes and clocks. He drove his own car.

But over the next year, he became frail and short of breath. He got around in his final months with the help of a wheelchair.

His obituary ran last Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times.

It said he died on March 4, seven days before his 97th birthday.

It mentioned a memorial service being planned for March 24 in Conroe, Texas, and that he wished people to send any contributions to the Hudson Rotary Club, where he had maintained an honorary membership.

What the obituary didn't say: Bill Cutler was an extraordinary man who always considered himself quite ordinary. He had a heart of gold and shared his good fortune.

It's my honor to make that clear.

Bill Cutler remembered for his service to mankind 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 6:11pm]
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