A Life: Lee Cutting; ‘I mostly want Lee remembered for the kind man he was, and not what he ended up with’


Valley News Columnist

Published: 01-30-2023 12:12 PM

Lee Cutting and John Walsh were the best of friends. Whether they were good influences on each other is arguable.

But they had a bond. His name was Jim Beam. “We put away a lot of bourbon,” Walsh told me.

For 10 years, Cutting, 64, and Walsh, 72, lived two doors apart in a row of four one-story buildings that make up a small apartment complex near Quechee George.

They watched sports on TV from Walsh’s living couch. They sat at a table in Cutting’s apartment, admiring the birds that flocked to his bird feeder.

“We’d sit there, drinking bourbon and watching the hummingbirds,” Walsh said. “We’d do it for hours.”

Walsh, who doesn’t drive, often depended on Cutting to get him where he needed to go. “He was my taxi cab,” Walsh said.

And as good friends sometimes do, they were known to squabble.

On a Tuesday morning last fall, Walsh walked outdoors to Cutting’s apartment. “I wanted him to make a beer run for me,” Walsh said. “He wouldn’t do it and we had words.”

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After returning to his apartment, Walsh got to thinking about his best friend. “Something must have been bothering him,” Walsh said.

He headed towards Cutting’s front door. A gunshot pierced the crisp morning air.

Five days after her younger brother’s suicide, Nancy Cutting sent me an email. “I mostly want Lee to be remembered for the kind man that he was and not what he ended up with,” she wrote.

In a family of seven children, Nancy and Lee were born 13 months apart. “We were like twins,” Nancy said. “My mother used to say what one of us didn’t think of, the other one did.”

Their father, Frank Sr., was a career Marine, so the family moved around a lot before settling in Lyme in the mid-1960s. When her youngest child started school, their mother, Jean, went to work outside the home as a secretary.

Lee “really didn’t like school,” Nancy Cutting recalled. “He got to his senior year and my mom couldn’t get him to go to school. He quit and went to work.”

In his early 20s, Cutting returned to school. He earned an associate’s degree in computer science at Hesser College in Manchester, N.H.

He embarked on a career in computer programming which led him into the banking world. He joined Chase Manhattan Bank in Rochester, N.Y, where he rose through the ranks in the information technology department.

Watching his younger brother’s leap from high school dropout to bank vice president, Frank Jr. urged Lee to tell family and friends about his career success on visits to Lyme. But Lee shrugged it off as not a big deal. The bank has 100 vice presidents, he’d say.

While living in upstate New York, Cutting visited his sister Patty and her family on Sundays for dinner and to watch football. He became close with his niece, Sam, attending her dance recitals and driving her home drove from practice, stopping along the way to pick up a pizza to share.

In high school, when Sam broke up with a boyfriend, whom Cutting had gotten to know, he assured her that everything would be OK. “He was easy to talk with, I think because he was so quiet,” said Sam Bell, who teaches English and creative writing at a community college in Kansas. “He was always a good listener.”

At Bell’s wedding reception in Lyme, Cutting told about how as a young girl, she scribbled across an entire wall in her parents’ new home. With warm water and soap, Cutting calmly removed all traces before her father came home.

“I guess you could say I was her first editor,” Cutting told wedding guests.

After leaving banking, Cutting settled back in the Upper Valley. He took up cooking, eventually landing jobs at upscale restaurants in Woodstock and Hanover.

When Cole Cutting opened a pizza shop and deli on Lyme Road in Hanover about 15 years ago, he turned to his uncle. “He was a big help in getting this started,” Cole told me just before closing time on a recent weekday afternoon.

Clam chowder was among his uncle’s specialties. “I still use his recipe,” Cole said.

Cutting, who never married or had children, was a “bit of a loner,” Cole said. “But he loved to talk sports. That’s how we interacted.”

He played on the Lyme Green softball team and golfed with Cole and Nancy’s son, Daniel Cutting.

After he stopped working at Cuttings Northside Cafes, he still called his nephew. “Will you make me a pizza?” he’d ask. “I’m coming over.”

The last time that Nancy Cutting saw her brother was at a family barbecue at her house in Corinth last May. He didn’t drink much that day, which she took as a positive sign.

Like others in the family, she broached the subject of his drinking from time to time. “You know there are people out there who can help,” Nancy told him.

Cutting’s troubles, however, went beyond his alcohol consumption. Through no fault of his own, Cutting learned last winter that he was losing his Quechee apartment that he’d lived in for more than 15 years.

A Boston real estate and development company had purchased the complex and two others in Hartford. Cutting and his neighbors were informed they’d have to move out sometime this year to make way for major renovations.

Nancy Cutting sent emails to her brother with listings of apartments and small houses for rent. “Anything he found that was reasonably priced was gone before he could look at it,” she said.

Last summer and fall, Cutting withdrew even more from his family. “He didn’t want anyone around,” his sister said. “I’d call him. Sometimes, he’d answer. Sometimes, he didn’t.”

He usually responded to her emails, particularly if the topic was what he could see outside his apartment’s kitchen window.

“That’s what I loved about the little birds,” he wrote on Sept. 19. “Thunder, lightning, pouring rain and there they are sitting on the bird feeder. My bird feeder is under the eves but they’re tough.”

On Oct. 6, Cutting drove to the post office in Quechee to pick up his mail, shortly before 9 a.m. He was having difficulty walking and appeared intoxicated, two post office workers later told Hartford police.

After watching Cutting drive away in a silver Subaru, they called police to report his car’s license plate number.

At 9:10 a.m., using vehicle registration information, a Hartford officer found the car parked in front of Cutting’s apartment just off Route 4.

The officer, who didn’t have a warrant, knocked on Cutting’s door. Cutting opened it.

The officer asked if Cutting had driven that morning. “Yeah,” he replied. “I went to the post office.”

Had he had anything to drink that morning?

“I made a drink before I left,” he told the officer.

What was in the drink?

“Uh, bourbon.”

Cutting agreed to a breathalyzer test. His blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, the officer stated in a court affidavit.

Cutting was arrested, handcuffed and placed in a cruiser. At the police station, Cutting later told his sister, he was handcuffed to a pole for two hours before an officer provided him with a “courtesy ride” back to his apartment.

It was Cutting’s first arrest for driving under the influence. According to the paperwork that Cutting received from the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office, he faced up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of $750, or both.

Under the state’s rules of criminal procedure, prosecutors must inform defendants before or at their arraignment of the maximum penalties they face, if convicted, Windsor County State’s Attorney Ward Goodenough explained to me.

In Windsor County, DUI offenses are typically resolved with a fine, Goodenough said.

At the bottom of the charging document, Windsor County prosecutors will indicate what penalty it’s seeking. In Cutting’s case, it was a fine.

On the same document, however, the judge in the case indicated that he wasn’t willing to go along with the prosecutor’s recommendation. Apparently, the judge wanted a stiffer penalty, but didn’t specify.

After pleading not guilty in October, Cutting was scheduled to return to court in early November. Nancy Cutting gave her brother the phone number for Norwich criminal defense attorney George Ostler. Last week, Ostler told me that Lee Cutting hadn’t contacted him.

As the November court date drew closer, Nancy Cutting said her brother became more anxious. “I’ll never go back to jail,” he told her.

When Cutting was in college in his early 20s, he attended a party with friends while home for a weekend. Since it happened 40 years, his siblings’ recollections of the event are foggy.

It’s unclear whether the party was at a place where Cutting and his friends were welcome. A man wielding a chainsaw showed up. Police were called. Arrests followed.

After Cutting’s conviction, a judge sentenced him to serve his time on weekends at the Grafton County jail in North Haverhill. It allowed him to remain in college in Manchester.

“My mother went to the bus station in White River Junction every Friday night to pick him,” Nancy Cutting said. “She picked him up at the jail on Sundays and drove him back to the bus.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, John Walsh sat on the couch in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment.

Walsh, a retired truck driver, was watching a nature program on his 60-inch TV.

After his old TV conked out, Cutting showed up at Walsh’s apartment with a new one still in its box. “He had a heart as big as a house,” Walsh said.

After Walsh insisted on paying him back, Cutting said he could do it in monthly installments of $100.

With all that was going on Cutting’s life the pending court date and the need to find a new place to live — Walsh knew Cutting had a lot weighing on him.

But it’s taken months for Walsh to process how much Cutting was hurting. “It was the pressure of living that got to him,” Walsh said. “He couldn’t take it any more.”

Last week, Bill Metcalfe, director of mobile crisis services for the Lebanon-based nonprofit West Central Behavioral Health, provided me with a list of 10 risk factors that can “increase the likelihood that someone will complete suicide.”

Although not an “exhaustive list,” it included substance use and lack of housing. If a person suffers from more than one, “certainly the risk is higher,” Metcalfe wrote in an email.

On Nov. 8, 10 minutes before Lee Cutting was scheduled to appear at the White River Junction courthouse, John Walsh found his best friend slumped in a chair in the apartment where they watched hummingbirds for hours at a time.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by calling 988. In New Hampshire, the state’s Rapid Response crisis line is accessible by calling or texting 1-833-710-6477.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.