Jim Hutchinson, a retired University of California, Davis, engineering professor who co-founded a Yolo County group that helps elderly residents and their caregivers, died April 26 of cancer complications, his family said. He was 79.
Mr. Hutchinson enjoyed the small-town charm of Davis as an active member of community groups. He joined UC Davis in 1964 as a founding professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering. He served as a Yolo County grand jury foreman and previously belonged to the Yolo County Juvenile Justice Commission.
He was a founding member, former board president and enthusiastic performer with the Davis Comic Opera Co. He sang with the University Chorus and Davis Chorale. He served as an usher at children's concerts and led tours at the Mondavi Center.
In 1975, Mr. Hutchinson and his wife, Patricia, joined others in starting Citizens Who Care, which provides respite care, companionship and social support for elderly residents and their family caregivers.
His own grandparents had lived with his family when he was a boy, and he later cared for his aunt at the end of her life.
He served as a longtime board member, managed the group's website and helped organize an annual winter concert benefit.
He also spent many hours playing cards, swapping stories and hanging out with male clients while their wives stepped out of the house to run errands, shop or take a break from the demands of caregiving.
After Mr. Hutchinson died, many men told his family that "Dad was their closest friend," said his daughter, Kate.
"As a daughter, it's not something I thought so much about before," she said. "A lot of times he could come across as a shy person. But he was someone whose friendships were deep and long-lasting."
James Richard Hutchinson was born in 1932 in San Francisco. His parents, Doris and George Hutchinson, were English and Irish immigrants, respectively, who met, married and raised two children in San Francisco.
He graduated as valedictorian at Balboa High School with a scholarship to Stanford University, where he worked three jobs to support himself while earning a mechanical engineering degree. Hired in 1954 by Westinghouse Electrical Corp., he was sent to Pennsylvania to earn a master's degree in mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh.
He married his wife of 55 years and returned to California to work for Lockheed Aircraft Corp. from 1958 to 1964 and earn a doctorate in engineering at Stanford. He taught for 29 years and helped create the graduate program for civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis.
Mr. Hutchinson, who retired in 1993, presented papers at academic conferences in Europe and Asia. He was a member of the International Symposium on the Vibrations of Continuous Systems and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Besides playing golf and bridge, he enjoyed meeting every Wednesday afternoon in recent years with other retired engineering professors at Sudwerk brewery in Davis.
"He had a great sense of humor and was very sociable," said Leonard Herrmann, a UC Davis colleague and friend. "I think Jim and his wife probably knew more people in Davis than any other couple."