RIP, Ted Cutler: A most generous son of Dorchester

This week, the city of Boston is mourning the death of a Dorchester boy who made a fortune and then devoted much of his life to an unvarnished form of generous philanthropy to both the city he loved and the grand old neighborhood where he was born and grew up.

Ted Cutler, OFD, passed away last Thursday at the age of 86. A one-time musician and artist’s agent, Mr. Cutler made it big when he and three of his Dorchester friends invested in business ventures ranging from corporate travel agencies and trade shows to Las Vegas casinos.

Ted was best known in greater Boston for creating the free Outside the Box music festival. But the Emerson College graduate and Back Bay resident never forgot his Dorchester roots. Two years ago, he returned to the basement of his boyhood school for the unveiling of a sparkling new library that had been constructed by volunteers. He had helped to pay for the renovations and the library was dedicated to him.

Mimi LaCamera, a school volunteer who chaired the effort to build the library, paid tribute this week to the man whose generosity was so helpful: “Ted Cutler was a grand Bostonian with a grand and generous heart,” she said in a letter published Tuesday in the Boston Globe. “Ted was also OFD — Originally From Dorchester — roots that he never forgot. He attended the Sarah Greenwood School … directly across from his grandfather’s variety store. Thanks to Ted’s generosity and that of others, the Greenwood opened a new library for its first- to eighth-graders in September 2015, a beautiful new facility which was named in honor of Ted.

“He will always be remembered for his grand gestures on behalf of the city he loved. At the Greenwood and in his home neighborhood of Dorchester, he will also be remembered for his smaller gestures, which are no less the hallmarks of his life.”

Built in 1919, the 98-year-old school building at the corner of Harvard and Glenway streets offers an extended-day program for some 400 students, K-1 through Grade 8, with dual language instruction in Spanish and English. 

On that September morning, LaCamera joined school headmaster Alexander Mathews and his staff in unveiling a plaque dedicating the library to Mr. Cutler, one of the oldest graduates of the school. “Teddy represents the past of the school, the present, and the future,” she said.

In his remarks, the benefactor/honoree looked back to his boyhood days. “My grandfather owned a store at the corner of Harvard Street and Glenway Street, and I used to walk across to him for lunch every day,” he recalled. “He even taught me Yiddish. At home, my mother and father only spoke English in front of me, and when they wanted to talk privately they spoke Yiddish. They didn’t know that I understood them because I learned it from my grandfather.”

Mr. Cutler posed for pictures at the event, which was wrapped in nostalgia, and he smiled as the kindergarten teacher led 20 little children in to their brand new book room – the Ted Cutler Library. And as he gazed at them, the 4 and 5 year olds sat down on the newly carpeted floor, ready to hear their first story read to them from a book on a shelf in the new library. It was their very first story-telling session, and the story was told not in English, not in Yiddish, but in Spanish.