He Hitchhiked to Win Her Over: Susan Burrell Hutchinson (First Lady, 2015-Present)

Old State House Museum - Thursday, September 13, 2018

First Lady Susan HutchinsonSusan Burrell never dreamed while growing up in Atlanta that she would meet a country boy from Northwest Arkansas who was so smitten with her that he would hitchhike from Alma to Memphis once a month while in law school to be with her. But her life’s journey from the east ran along that road that Asa Hutchinson took to be with the girl of his dreams, and it led to Northwest Arkansas; Washington, D.C.; and finally, to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

Atlanta-born and bred, Susan Burrell was raised in an atmosphere quite different from her future home in the mountains. She was the second of seven children and had an early interest in science and medicine. She was the product of an urban working class household with parents that insisted that their children excel, but also stay humble. While she was her high school valedictorian, she found college scholarships hard to come by. Still, she persisted, and enrolled at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. In her senior year, she met a tall Arkansan named Asa Hutchinson, who shared the same values of faith that she did.

Changes came quickly for both Susan and Asa. Her intent was to attend graduate school and medical school at Clemson while Asa planned to attend law school at South Carolina. Instead, Asa wound up at law school in Arkansas while Susan’s road led further west as a teacher in Memphis. But the aspiring lawyer was smitten by Susan, and for two years he hitchhiked once a month from Northwest Arkansas. She would follow him home for good when they were married in 1974.

photo by Tracy VanDiver via Gov. Asa Hutchinson on FlickrShe settled into the life of a lawyer’s wife, brought up four children, and began to experience life as a politician’s wife early, and as a Republican in what was at that time an overwhelmingly Democratic state. She worked tirelessly beside her husband to build the state GOP while caring for a growing family. She and her family faced danger when Asa, as U.S. Attorney for Arkansas’s Eastern District, prosecuted the violent extremist group, Covenant, Arm, and Sword of the Lord in 1985. Susan spent much time on the campaign trail over the next two decades, as Asa became chair of the Republican Party of Arkansas, a congressman, a member of President George W. Bush’s administration and finally, governor.

Because of her past time as a teacher and her own struggles growing up, Susan chose to focus her time on children’s issues before and during her time as first lady. She is active in her support of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Museum of Discovery and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

But perhaps the most important cause to her is one she was involved in before becoming first lady and that is the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas. This organization helps abused and neglected children receive the attention, protection and medical aid they need. Her interest in the organization came when she learned that a friend had suffered abuse as a child, and struggled throughout her adult life to overcome it. Susan was honored as the CACA’s inaugural “Arkansas Woman of Inspiration” in 2015. It indeed is a fitting tribute to a woman who followed her heart and in doing so, enriched this state that she came to call home.

Susan Hutchinson's inaugural gown will be on display for the first time at the Old State House Museum's "First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times" exhibit, which reopens Sept. 14. 

(Pictured, top: First Lady Susan Hutchinson. Bottom, Gov. Asa and First Lady Susan Hutchinson at the 2015 Inaugural Ball; photo by Tracy VanDover)