Mary Hutchison didn’t believe she would live to see 100.
“I thought when I was 90 that I was done, and I gave away my fur coat,” she said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘I won’t need it where I’m going.’”
But the Bearden resident did mark that milestone, celebrating her 100th birthday Dec. 14. The week before, her close friends in the Knoxville Christian Women’s Club festively marked the occasion with gifts, a very large cake and a celebration of Mary’s terrific life — and a Christian testimony that has encouraged many to come to know the Lord.
“She just has a way to connect with people that is very sincere and honest,” said Pam Wilson, her friend and fellow KCWC member. “She has a passion for leading others to Jesus.”
“I want people to know I love the Lord and that Jesus really did change my life,” Mary said, noting it took the loving guidance of a “Godly neighbor” to help bring that about.
Having to re-evaluate her Faith, “I thought I was a Christian,” she said. “I read the Bible and had been baptized. I gave money and I went to church, but I never had the assurance of heaven until I was born again at 37, when the Holy Spirit sealed me.”
Her life had seemed idyllic in many ways up to that point. She was born in North Knoxville Dec. 14, 1922, to Ira and Nettie Akridge, and grew up with an older sister, Elizabeth, and a younger brother, Robert.
Mary grew tall, and by age 13 was “5-foot-9-and-¾ inches,” she recalled, which led to her doing some modeling locally. She graduated from Central High School in 1941, then took a few classes at the University of Tennessee before traveling to New York with a girlfriend to try her hand at professional modeling gigs.
She even interviewed with the John Robert Powers modeling agency. While that move didn’t pan out — “my family didn’t look very favorably at the profession” — she did end up modeling for Rich’s Department store in the 1960s.
She married Robert Hutchison, who she met in 1948 and married in 1949. He had been a prisoner of war during World War II for two years, leaving him severely malnourished.
The couple adopted two girls, Holly and Robin.
Robert went on to became vice president for the Institute for Public Service at the University of Tennessee, and the family lived in Holston Hills.
In addition to family, Mary’s calling became her evangelistic work through the KCWC, which formed in 1969. She was the group’s first chair.
“We first met at Deane Hill Country Club,” she recalled of the organization, which now meets the second Thursday of every month in Bearden Banquet Hall. “We had about 300 women who attended that first year, and 50 women came to know the Lord.”
Not only has she witnessed to area women, but Mary also has traveled to 29 states sharing the Gospel.
Her beloved husband passed away in 1987, and Mary now lives with her grandson, Jason, while both daughters live out of state. She also has a granddaughter, Erin.
She has slowed down some during the last 15 years — since she bought a convertible BMW she no longer drives. A long-time member of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, she no longer attends because it’s difficult to move around as well as she once did.
“I read, pray and watch a little TV,” she said. “I get a lot of phone calls, too. I have been blessed in my life with so many friends.”
Beyond speaking with people she knows, Mary said she gets “a lot of telemarketing calls, and I don’t hesitate to ask them if they know the Lord. God lays it on my heart to talk to these strangers about Him.
“The sweetest thing to me is how she truly cares,” Wilson said. “She is the most natural evangelist I ever met.”