Clayton F. Hewitt
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May 20, 1928 - May 23, 2020
Having taught Death and Dying courses at Middlesex Community College for over 25 years, Clayton Hewitt knew the importance of planning for the end of life, yet when he reached his own on May 24, just four days after his 92nd birthday, his obituary was incomplete. Although he’d prepared multiple notebooks of instructions and made many advance arrangements, he left this task unfinished, a final assignment for his family.
Born in Middletown on May 20, 1928 to Julia Agnes (Scanlon) and Robert George Hewitt, Clayton grew up on Farm Hill Road. His father worked at Wilcox & Crittenden, and his mother cared for their home and family. Although born with a visual impairment, Clayton invested great time and energy in his schoolwork, even building a small shack in his parents’ backyard so he could study undistracted. While at Woodrow Wilson High School, a teacher took him aside one day to ask what college he’d be attending. Blindsided, he reported no such plan. “I hope you’ll reconsider,” she replied. “You have what it takes.”
Clayton, however, was unconvinced. After graduating, he went to work at the Russell Company, producing ladder tape for venetian blinds. Once he realized factory work was not for him, he and his best friend, Chester Kokoczka, began contemplating college and made a pact. “I’ll go if you go,” they agreed, and enrolled at Central Connecticut State College, where Clayton majored in social science. Since his eyesight prevented him from driving, he’d often hitchhike to and from classes, so strong was his belief in the importance of an education. This dedication would eventually lead him to Wesleyan University, where he earned an MA in Government in 1957 and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Liberal Arts in 1981.
Clayton shared his belief in education with his Woodrow Wilson middle and high school students from 1954 to1967, where he brought history to life in the classroom and on frequent trips to historic sites. Recently, previous students remembered him. One “found a lifelong passionate interest in history in his class.” Another said he was “sharp and witty. He challenged us to think.” Countless others looked back on his impact on their lives, often one that influenced their career paths; some went on to become teachers themselves.
Early in Clayton’s career, some mutual students plotted his introduction to Mary-Jo Beaulieu. Their efforts were fruitful, and on August 19, 1957, Clayton and Mary-Jo married and made their home in Middletown. In 1961, Julia was born, followed by Paul in 1965 and Mary-Jean in 1968. In 1963, Clayton and Mary-Jo bought a small cabin in Middlesex, Vermont; eventually they purchased an old farm on Culver Hill, where they built a summer home and forged lasting friendships with their neighbors.
Throughout all this, Clayton was affiliated with Middlesex Community College, beginning in 1966 as an adjunct instructor of history and sociology, well before there was a campus and when classes met at night at Woodrow Wilson High School. From 1970 to 1992, he was a full time professor of sociology, mortifying his children by teaching a section of Human Sexuality as well as several easier to mention classes. After his retirement in 1992, he continued to teach one or two sections of a very popular Death & Dying course each semester until 2010.
Clayton’s interests, though, were not limited to family and education. For many years, he was president of the Middletown chapter of the AFT, the local teachers’ union. A strong believer in the power of collective bargaining, he served for over 40 years as secretary-treasurer of the Middletown Central Labor Council. At the same time, he was a supernumerary officer with the Middletown Police Department, directing traffic and overseeing community events. At the height of racial tensions in the mid-1960s and early 70s, he was called upon to lead workshops for local police on ways to diffuse and avoid inciting racial conflict. A fierce advocate for social justice, he served for many years as secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. Clayton was proud to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU and from the age of 17, a member of the Socialist Labor Party. He cared deeply about the struggles of people in recovery from addiction, those left behind after a suicide, and those working through other forms of grief. He was certified in family therapy and drug and alcohol counseling and founded a chapter of Survivors of Suicide at Middlesex Community College. In addition, any reader of local newspapers will remember his predilection for writing letters to the editor on a range of topics; his file is over an inch thick.
Clayton was predeceased by his brother, William R. Hewitt, in 1989 and his wife, Mary-Jo Hewitt, in 2000. Survivors include his three children: Julia Hewitt of Worcester, Vermont; Paul Hewitt of Middlesex, Vermont; Mary Jean Hewitt-Burr and her husband Alan of Middletown; six grandchildren: Edward Ramcke, Marilla Hewitt, Mariah Hewitt, Emma Johansen Peacock, Shane Hewitt, and Lida Johansen-Hewitt; nephews William and Carey Hewitt; longtime friends
Beverly Ross and Doreen Parmentier; several generations of former students; and his faithful dog, Cora. Clayton’s family would also like to recognize Jim Stella, his physical therapist, whose encouragement kept Clayton exercising until the day he died, and Dr. Alan Douglass, his physician, who provided him with over 30 years of outstanding care and whose respectful expertise Clayton valued highly.
Clayton’s family will celebrate his life for as long as they live, and they hope you will join them in honoring his memory. Write a letter to the editor. Vote. Plant a garden. Work for peace and social justice. Support your public schools. Tell others you believe in their potential. Find a cause that matters to you and fight for it. And if you believe in the mission of St. Vincent de Paul Place or CAT Tales, as Clayton did, make a donation in his memory.