Mormon, former police chief Kenneth Hutchins to pray at Republican National Convention after life of service

By Jeff Benedict

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Kenneth Hutchins and wife.

Hutchins family photo

Ken Hutchins was a 27-year-old police sergeant in Walpole, Mass., when two Mormon missionaries visited his home in 1968 and invited him to read the Book of Mormon. A few visits later they taught him what they termed "the pattern of prayer" – address Heavenly Father, speak from the heart, and close in the name of Jesus Christ. Hutchins, a protestant, had never prayed aloud. But at the missionaries' urging, he tried it and soon thereafter joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That was forty-four years ago. Since then he has given hundreds of prayers from the heart in Mormon congregations throughout the greater Boston area as a bishop and later as a stake president. Next week, at Mitt Romney's invitation, the 71-year-old retired police chief from Walpole will give the opening prayer on the final day of the Republican National Convention.

"I am honored and stunned," Hutchins said in an interview from his home in Northboro, where he is recovering from chemotherapy treatment. He has active lymphoma. "I plan to be in good enough shape by next week to travel to Tampa and do what Mitt has asked."

Duty and honor have dictated virtually every decision Hutchins has made in his life. He started his career as a police officer in 1962 at age 21. He retired as a chief in 2003. For most of that time he doubled as a lay church leader in the Mormon faith. As a leader he had the uncanny ability to command respect by virtue of his humility and his compassion.

The selection of Ken Hutchins as the Mormon ecclesiastical leader to address the convention is an insight into how Mitt Romney relies heavily on people he has known and trusted for a long time. Back in 1987 when Romney was a stake president in Boston, he tapped Hutchins – then chief of police in Northboro, Mass. — to be a bishop. Later, Romney asked Hutchins to be his counselor in the Boston Massachusetts stake presidency. During that time, Romney developed a deep respect and appreciation for Hutchins.

But the two men could not have been more different. Romney, the son of an auto industry CEO and former governor, was the CEO of Bain Capital. Hutchins, the son of a union organizer for mill workers in Massachusetts, was chief of police in a small town. In many ways, Hutchins was a lot like Andy Griffith — wise, folksy, gentle and quick to smile. Together, he and Romney carted Mormon teenagers all over Boston for youth activities, figured out to build congregations for a burgeoning community of foreign speaking Mormon immigrants in inner city Boston, and helped bring a Mormon temple to Boston.

"We had some just outrageous, wonderful, memory-stoking youth events," Hutchins said. "Mitt was an integral part of those memories. I spent time with him there and talked with him and got to live with him so to speak. He was a terrific leader."

When Hutchins retired after 23 years as chief of police in Northboro, Romney was governor at the time. He spoke at Hutchins' retirement ceremony and formally declared it Kenneth Hutchins Day. Then, with Romney looking on, Hutchins took the lectern and thanked all his officers for their loyalty and friendship over the years. Then he gave each one of them a copy of the Book of Mormon as a token of his friendship and shared his personal testimony. It's the sort of thing Ken Hutchins has been doing his whole life. Serving the public as an officer of the peace and telling people about his faith in Jesus Christ.

Hutchins has had minimal direct contact with Romney in recent years. But he has become quite close to Romney's oldest son Tagg. After Hutchins retired from law enforcement in 2003, he spent three years as a mission president for the church in Tampa. Then he returned to Boston to become the temple president of the Boston Temple in Belmont. Tagg Romney was his neighbor and was assigned to be his home teacher, essentially making monthly visits to check on the Hutchins' family's health and welfare.

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