When Tom Dutton first got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he received a balloon from his students that said, “Thinking of you.”
Janice Dutton, his widow, now has that balloon displayed on her fireplace mantle. It stayed inflated for months, hovering around his hospital room and then his living room when he came home.
“Have you ever heard of a helium balloon doing that?” Janice said. “Like that balloon rose above the gravity pulling it down, Tom rose above his cancer.”
Over 100 people gathered in the Dolibois Room in Shriver Center Saturday afternoon to celebrate Dutton’s life. He was a professor in Miami University’s architecture program and both founder and director for the Center for Community Engagement in Over-The-Rhine (OTR), located just north of downtown Cincinnati.
Dutton was known for saying that the day he stopping learning from his students, would be the day that he stopped teaching.
The impact he had on students, past and present, was evident in the memories written by current and former students. These written messages welcomed attendees in the hallway and also lined the back walls of the room.
Kind words and memories written by members of the Over-The-Rhine community and Miami faculty and staff accompanied the student testimonies. There were also frisbees, a tribute to Dutton’s love of playing ultimate frisbee with his sons, Nathan and
Nolan, and photographs of Dutton throughout his life.
Junior Jessie Leisinger said that one of her favorite memories of Dutton occurred her second semester at Miami.
“For our final project, everyone had built a massing type form. I was the only one who put details, specifically handrails,” Leisinger said. “Tom got very excited about the handrails and he took me aside after class and we walked up the stairs in Alumni [Hall], and he said, ‘See, a handrail invites you in and connects you to a building.’”
Many others shared their fondest memories of Dutton and what his life’s passion meant to them. The memorial started off with a video from “Miss June” Alexander, a member of the OTR community.
Alexander said Tom gave her “permission to be human.”
A dozen people — colleagues, neighborhood friends and family members — also made comments on Dutton’s memory.
“Thank you, Tom, it was a privilege to know you,” said Mary Rogero, interim chair of Miami’s Department of Architecture and Interior Design. “We are all here today because you moved us.”
Bonnie Neumeier, a long-time resident and community activist in Cincinnati’s OTR neighborhood, spoke about the relationship that Dutton forged between Miami and OTR. The community has come to rely on Miami to “hang in there” with them in hard times, as Dutton did.
“His voice will never grow dim,” Neumeier said. “We in Over-the-Rhine grieve with you.”
Former classmate and colleague, Tony Schuman, called Dutton a powerful agent of change.
“Over-the-Rhine was Tom’s ultimate symphony,” Schuman said.
His widow, Janice, gave an emotional, personal speech at the end of the memorial. She talked about Dutton’s deep love for his family and his talent for turning his passion into his life’s work.
“I hope that you remember him, not for his disease, but for his legacy. Remember how he rose above,” she said.