Susan Burrell Hutchinson (1950–)
Susan Burrell Hutchinson is the wife of Asa Hutchinson, the forty-sixth governor of Arkansas, and the state’s forty-first first lady. Outside of politics, she has been best known for her efforts in children’s advocacy and Alzheimer’s awareness.
Susan Harriett Burrell was born on April 11, 1950, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second of seven children of a tire dealer and a homemaker. She was the product of an urban working-class household. Although she was her high school valedictorian at Fulton High School in Atlanta in 1968, she found college scholarships hard to come by. She enrolled at Georgia State University but was unhappy there, later saying, “People just weren’t serious about their studies, and the professors; one in particular, tried to destroy your faith.” She then enrolled at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry with aspirations to become a physician.
However, six weeks before graduation, she met a senior from Arkansas named Asa Hutchinson, whom she began dating. Her intent was to attend graduate school and medical school at Clemson University, while he planned to attend law school at University of South Carolina. Instead, he wound up at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County), while she found work as a teacher in a private Christian school in Memphis, Tennessee. During this time, with little money and an unreliable vehicle, Asa Hutchinson would drive from Fayetteville to Alma (Crawford County) once a month and hitchhike the remaining distance from northwestern Arkansas to Memphis to visit her. They were married in Atlanta in 1973. The Hutchinsons have four children: Asa III, John, Seth, and Sarah.
Susan Hutchinson settled into life as a lawyer’s (then politician’s) wife, raising the couple’s children as well as working as a substitute teacher for Benton County Christian Schools in Rogers (Benton County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County) schools.
Susan Hutchinson experienced life as a political wife early, and as a Republican in what was still an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Asa Hutchinson first held public office as the city attorney of Bentonville from 1977 to 1978. After his service as the U.S. district attorney for Arkansas’s Western District from 1982 to 1985, he made several unsuccessful bids for public office, then becoming a partner in a law firm from 1986 to 1996 and serving actively in roles in the Arkansas Republican Party, including co-chairman and later chairman. He represented the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. Congress as a Republican from 1997 to 2001, resigning his post on August 6, 2001, to become the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Susan worked beside her husband to build the state GOP and faced danger, along with her family, when her husband, as district attorney, prosecuted the violent extremist group the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord in the mid-1980s. Asa Hutchinson was elected governor of Arkansas in 2014 and reelected in 2018.
Her work with children during the 1970s led later to her involvement with the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas (CAC), a nonprofit organization where victims of abuse can seek access to services such as medical examinations, forensic interviewers, and advocacy and therapy services. 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. In recognition of that work, she was named the CAC’s first Arkansas “Woman of Inspiration” in 2015.
As first lady, she has continued her work with the Children’s Advocacy Centers, seeking additional partnerships for the organization, as well as overseeing renovations to the Governor’s Mansion and working with former first ladies in fundraising efforts to preserve and upgrade the first ladies’ exhibit, with its collection of inaugural gowns, at the Old State House Museum.
For additional information:
Bridges, Katie. “A Servant’s Heart.” Arkansas Life, September 29, 2015. Online at http://arkansaslife.com/a-servants-heart/ (accessed July 18, 2019).
Brock, Roby, and Bill Paddack. “First Priorities.” Talk Business & Politics, September/October 2015, p. 12.
First Lady Susan Hutchinson. https://governor.arkansas.gov/about/first-lady-susan-hutchinson/ (accessed July 18, 2019).
“He Hitchhiked to Win Her Over: Susan Burrell Hutchinson (First Lady, 2015–Present).” Old State House Museum. http://www.oldstatehouse.com/blog/he-hitchhiked-to-win-her-over-susan-burrell-hutchinson-first-lady-2015-present (accessed July 18, 2019).
Stumpe, Joe. “Susan Burrell Hutchinson.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 11, 2015, High Profile, pp. 1D, 6D.
Wilson, Cecelia. “A Road Well Traveled: The Hutchinson’s [sic] Love Story.” Searcy Living, no. 3 (2016): 58.
Old State House Museum
Last Updated: 07/18/2019