Former Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut III died in hospice care on Sunday, Dec. 18, at the age of 84, following a lengthy illness. Hudnut won his first mayoral bid in 1975 and was Indianapolis’s longest-serving mayor.
When Hudnut was elected, Indianapolis was plighted with aging factories and urban decay. White suburban flight became commonplace, and leaders were uncertain of the city’s future. During these challenging times, Hudnut stepped into office with an optimistic vision of Indianapolis’s future. During his 16 years as mayor, more than $4 million was dedicated to revitalizing downtown Indianapolis.
During Hudnut’s years, Indianapolis expanded the Indiana Convention Center, which today hosts a large variety of meetings and conventions. Sports fans have many reasons to pay tribute to Hudnut, who oversaw efforts to bring the Colts to Indianapolis from Baltimore. Hudnut viewed sports as a way to bring Hoosiers and tourists downtown. During Hudnut’s time as mayor, Indianapolis hosted the 1987 Pan American games and created the Indiana Sports Corporation.
Hudnut took many risks while revitalizing the city, building the Hoosier Dome before finding a team to fill it. He worked to revitalize downtown Indy despite its declining population because he had faith in his vision for the city.
“The vision I have for Indianapolis is a city that is both economically competitive and compassionate toward urban and human problems,” Hudnut said during his last term as Indianapolis mayor. “To make the city more livable involves more than just creating beautiful spaces and buildings. It’s more than a solid economic foundation, and more than good jobs. It’s embracing future change. It’s dealing with tough human issues that touch the compassionate side in all of us. It’s a good future for our kids.”
During his tenure, Hudnut had favorable relationships with Indianapolis’s Black community. The community was occasionally critical of how he handled police-community relations, refusing to take a stance on the case of Wayne Sharp, a white officer who shot and killed a Black robbery suspect. However, Hudnut was applauded for his visibility and openness. He could often be found exploring the convention halls during the Indiana Black Expo or answering questions on WTLC’s “Mornings with the Mayor.”
Shortly before his passing, Hudnut was able to share some of his final feelings in a valediction reflecting on his life. He wrote:
“One cannot choose how one finishes the race, only how one runs it. I would not have chosen a long, slow slide into complete heart failure, but I tried to cope with it with ‘gaiety, courage and a quiet mind,’ to borrow from my mother who in turn was quoting Robert Louis Stevenson. It has often been remarked that life is a journey, not a destination. About the destination, ‘I believe, Lord, help thou mine unbelief.’ I leave this earthly life at peace, with faith and trust in a future that will carry me beyond the bourne of space and time, but also with wariness of plotting the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.
“There is much I cannot fathom about the afterlife. Will there be recognition? What part of me, if any, survives? Forever, or just until I am forgotten? A little reverent agnosticism seems to be in order, because ‘now we see through a glass darkly.’ More positively, ‘we walk by faith and not by sight.’ About the journey, it’s been a wonderful trip. As I have said many times, I hope my epitaph will read: ‘He built well and he cared about people.’
Many city leaders have reacted to Hudnut’s death, sharing their condolences and reflecting on his legacy:
Joe Hogsett, Mayor of Indianapolis
Today, our city mourns the loss of a visionary leader who cared so deeply for Indianapolis that he dedicated much of his career to its transformation.
Mayor Hudnut was ahead of his time, helping to turn, as he often said, “India-NO-place” into “India-SHOW-place,” and paving the way for the world-class city that Indianapolis has become. He was a true public servant, with an energy and personality that captured the hearts and imaginations of countless residents.
Over the years, I was fortunate enough to get to know Mayor Hudnut very well — as an opponent for political office, as a leader of this community and as a friend. In today’s politically polarized world, there are far too few like him.
During this difficult time, Steph and I have Beverly and the entire Hudnut family in our thoughts and prayers. For the City of Indianapolis, there will only ever be one Mayor Bill Hudnut. But it is my deepest aspiration that we will continue building on his legacy and in so doing, make our mayor proud.
Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana
Karen and I were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our friend and former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut. (He) was a one-of-a-kind leader whose faith, leadership and boundless enthusiasm inspired all of us who knew him. We send our love and prayers out to Beverly, his family, friends and all who mourn this uniquely gifted man. God bless you, Mayor. Your leadership and love for Indianapolis transformed our capitol city and will never be forgotten.
Maggie A. Lewis, Indianapolis City-County Council President
Today, we lost an individual who many call the architect of our great city, Mayor William “Bill” Hudnut.
Mayor Hudnut was a visionary leader whose contributions forever changed the lives of families throughout our city. Committed to elevating the profile of Indianapolis, our community continues to stand on the shoulders of his many contributions and has been the beneficiary of his passion and commitment.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “A good name is better than fine perfume and the day of death, better than the day of birth.” Rest well, Mayor Hudnut, for you have earned it. I encourage our entire community to join me in keeping the entire Hudnut family in your thoughts and prayers.
Stephen Goldsmith, Former Indianapolis Mayor
Bill Hudnut was a remarkable person and an extraordinary mayor. Indianapolis residents now and in the future benefit from his vision and energy that truly transformed our city. Perhaps the most valuable part of his legacy was his life-long commitment to inclusivity and tolerance, which he continued to champion long after his elected life ended. His wisdom, humor and bipartisan approach to attacking the challenges of running a fity will be missed.
Statement from Pacers Sports & Entertainment
Pacers Sports & Entertainment joins all the citizens of Indianapolis in mourning the passing of our beloved former mayor, William Hudnut. It is impossible to overvalue the transformative impact “Mayor Bill” had on Indianapolis and central Indiana during his four terms of City Hall leadership. Continuing the revitalization of Indianapolis begun by his predecessor Richard Lugar, Bill Hudnut enabled us to dare to dream big and believe all things were possible through cooperation and collaboration. One cannot imagine what Indy would be today without his vision. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Beverly and his entire family.