Barbara Hutmacher MacLean


Barbara Hutmacher MacLean, journalist, artist, author and traveler, died after a short illness on December 29, 2019 in Port Townsend, Washington. She was 93.

She was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1926. Self-educated, she had no interest in getting a formal education. She dropped out of her first year of college at Western Michigan College in 1946 when she met and married her first husband, Don Hutmacher. The marriage ended in divorce in 1971.

She was a homemaker during the early years of her marriage, but her restless energy and curiosity about the lives of others, soon led her to journalism. In her long newspaper career she worked for newspapers in Virginia, California, South Africa and Washington. While working as the People Editor for the Wenatchee World, she arranged a series of six-month exchanges with newspapers in England, China and Namibia. After reading the obituary of a homeless woman, she researched and wrote about the woman’s life. Her profile earned her an Excellence in Journalism Award in 1990.

During the apartheid era in South Africa she worked at the Daily Dispatch newspaper in East London under then editor Donald Woods. The movie “Cry Freedom” by Richard Attenborough is based on events that took place during that time. Barbara married the photographer Fraser MacLean in 1977 in South Africa. They fled the country when Fraser was banned for photographing the activist Steve Biko, who died while in police custody. Barbara recalled boarding a freighter to leave the country and having the South African police search their cabin. They feared the police would search their belongings again at the next port, so they drank a bottle of wine and filled the empty bottle with Fraser’s negatives before tossing it overboard. Fraser died in 2004.

She published two books about her time in South Africa. The first, published in 1981, was, “In Black and White: Voices of Apartheid.” The second, published in 2003, was “Strike a Woman, Strike a Rock: Fighting for Freedom in South Africa.” She also published “I Can’t Do What? Voices of Pathfinding Women” in 1997. She wrote about well-known people and ordinary people. People told her their stories, and she wrote them down. “I was always a very good listener,” she said.

When she wasn’t in motion, she was reading. Her homes were lined with book-laden shelves, sometimes leaving little space for people or other furniture. She was a life-long subscriber to The New York Times and The New Yorker, reading both cover to cover.

She began to travel in the late 1960s, always abroad, often alone and sometimes aboard freighters, her favorite way to travel. She kept travel journals filled with her distinctive script and illustrated with intricate line drawings, preferring to write about what she saw rather than about herself. She once said that she was happiest when living out of a suitcase.

Her five children, Beth, Jessica, Cary, David and Clay, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild survive her. A memorial will be held in the summer.


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