DURHAM – Her struggle with ovarian cancer lasted for three years before she finally succumbed on Saturday at the age of 54.

But it was her strength of spirit, especially during her illness, and a life devoted to helping others that will be remembered the most, her husband said.

Jill Hutchins of Newell Brook Road in Durham died at home, surrounded by her family.

A former schoolteacher, day care center operator, printing company owner and social worker, Mrs. Hutchins accomplished a lot in a short time.

“She was very spirited. I can’t put it into words. It was this energy that she put into her entire life,” said her husband, Albert Stimpson of Durham.

Mrs. Hutchins was born in Rumford in 1955, but moved with her family to the neighboring western Maine town of Bethel.

She attended Bethel schools, graduating from Telstar Regional High School in the class of 1973.

After high school, she attended the University of Southern Maine (then called University of Maine Portland), where she earned a degree in English. She taught English for one year in Arkansas before returning to the Portland area.

Mrs. Hutchins was predeceased by her second husband, John Gilbert “Biff” Lea, whom she met while working at Tower Publishing in Portland.

Stimpson, a UPS driver, was introduced to his future wife in 2001 by another local UPS driver. They hit it off after their first date and were married in September 2002.

Stimpson remembers their first date.

“I was going through a rough time and Jill pulled me out of it,” he said. “She spent hours listening to my troubles.”

It was those listening skills that would serve Mrs. Hutchins well in the last years of her life.

In 2006, she went back to school and earned her master’s degree in social work from USM. She wound up taking a social worker/therapist position with Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston.

“Jill felt it was time. She had raised her children and decided she was going back to school,” her husband said.

Stimpson said his wife provided counseling and therapy services to a wide range of clients suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse.

“I could not have done what she did, but Jill loved it,” he said.

Her clients would often come by their house and drop off gifts.

“They just couldn’t break the connection Jill made with them. They loved her,” Stimpson said.

Her co-workers at Tri County also admired her — though her health had prevented her from working for the last year. One of them will officiate at her service this Thursday.

Before she became a social worker, Mrs. Hutchins operated a day care and preschool in Pownal called Right at Home.

It was located in a barn that she renovated.

“She loved children. They were her life,” her husband said. “She even attended the high school graduation of some of these children. That’s how important these children were to her.”

At the same time as the day care center, she somehow found time to operate Mark’s Printing House — a home-based business.

Mrs. Hutchins also served on the Pownal School Board.

Stimpson said his wife has 10 grandchildren.

“They were very special to her,” he said. “They would call her Nana Jill. She meant the world to them.”

Donations should be made in her memory to the ovarian cancer research at the American Cancer Society, 1 Bowdoin Mill, Suite 300, Topsham, Me. 04086.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]