Biography of William Hutchinson, MD

William “Bill” Hutchinson was the son of a country doctor. He was born in 1909 when Washington state was covered with primeval forests and the streets of Seattle were paved with mud; he died in 1997 as the tech industry was transforming the economic landscape and biologists began mapping the terrain of human genes.

Bill almost pursued a career in professional baseball, but instead enrolled in medical school. After graduating from Montreal’s McGill University Medical School, Bill completed his internship and his surgery residency in Baltimore, where he met his wife Charlotte, who was being trained as a surgical nurse. They returned to Seattle in 1940 to raise a family, and Bill began his career as a surgeon specializing in cancer treatment. He practiced for 40 years.

Treating cancer patients utilized all his gifts: compassion for people in the most trying times of their lives, probing intelligence, quickness of eye and hand to wield the scalpel expertly, physical stamina and strength, and the mental toughness to make difficult decisions no matter how late the hour or long the odds. But of all his gifts, Bill Hutchinson’s greatest was his inquiring mind, his scientist’s passion to know the world in all its depth and complexity. That unquenchable curiosity ultimately convinced him that biomedical research was the key to understanding and conquering cancer and other diseases afflicting humankind.

An uncommon vision. It was unusual for a practicing physician to do basic research in the 1950s, and it still is. For Bill, though, research was an essential step in understanding and improving patient care. Moreover, he believed that seasoned doctors would bring more pragmatic perspectives to such research. He envisioned creating an independent facility where practicing physicians and surgeons would enjoy “complete freedom to pursue their research.”

Realizing that vision took tenacity. Pacific Northwest Research Foundation (PNRF), founded in 1956, was first located in a building generously provided by the Swedish Hospital on their campus. Bill served as PNRF’s Founding President from 1956 to 1972. 

“The practicing physician and scientist with an inquiring mind will be particularly welcomed, helped and encouraged in research work by the Institute, which is the chief reason for its existence.”

William Hutchinson, MD

Founder of Pacific Northwest Research Institute

As the PNRF’s reputation grew, so did its areas of inquiry. Though PNRF continued to focus on basic and clinical research dedicated to improving patient care, its scientists branched out to study heart surgery, cancer, and diseases of the endocrine system such as diabetes. As cancer research accelerated, in 1964, PNRF created a cancer division that eventually became independently established as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. 

In 1988, the PNRF moved into the state-of-the art, 45,000 sq. ft. facility that it occupies today in the First Hill Neighborhood, and nine years later, officially changed its name to Pacific Northwest Research Institute. 

After retiring as a practicing surgeon, Bill did not slow down. Throughout the 1970s, he was an outspoken advocate for cancer research, helping Congress draft the National Cancer Act. He continued as the first President and Director of “The Fred Hutch” till 1981. Then, he returned to PNRF and served on the board until 1996. He passed away a year later in 1997.

Sixty-seven years ago, Bill Hutchinson founded PNRF with the unconventional goal of creating a place where scientists were free to pursue discoveries that promised the highest chance of improving human health. Today, more than ever, we are excited about the many examples at PNRI where his founding vision is, once again, becoming a reality.