Trustee Emeritus Ted Cutler ’51 LHD ‘07, whose vision, leadership, and generosity helped transform Emerson College and its neighborhood into a vibrant center of arts innovation, died Thursday, March 30. He was 86.
“Ted will be remembered as a generous benefactor of many worthy causes and charities and, as a proud Emerson alum, the College held a special place in his heart,” Emerson Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Greenhawt ’68 said. “Ted and his late wife Joan donated many significant gifts over the years that will continue to be important to Emerson.”
Cutler served on Emerson’s Board of Trustees from 1998 to 2008, chairing the board from 2001-2007. In 2007, the College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
In 1999, he and his late wife, Joan, gave the lead gift in the restoration of the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, which now bears their name, as well as a portrait of the couple in the lobby. Cutler also played a major role, along with President Emeritus Jackie Liebergott, in restoring the Emerson/Paramount Center, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored with an award in 2011.
In a nod to his early years as a musician and bandleader and his radio work while at Emerson, as well as his efforts to fund new facilities for the College’s award-winning radio station WERS 88.9 FM, he was inducted into the WERS Hall of Fame in 2016.
Rob Silverman, former vice president of administration and finance, said it was through WERS that Cutler reconnected with Emerson. In the late-90s, the College was in the middle of moving from the Back Bay to its present home in the Theatre District, and needed a new radio station, he said.
Cutler was one of the students who obtained WERS’ first broadcast license in the 1940s, so then-president Liebergott suggested Silverman visit Cutler and show him the plans for a new station at 180 Tremont Street. Cutler “fell in love” with the plans, and made a lead gift. He also joined the Board of Trustees.
“It was the beginning of his re-engagement with Emerson, a re-engagement that lasted for the rest of his life,” Silverman said.
Cutler maintained that relationship, not just in the form of gifts or board leadership, but in real, on-the-ground connections with the College and his fellow alumni.
“He was a passionate Emersonian who cared deeply about his classmates,” said Barbara Rutberg ‘68, consultant to the vice president of institutional advancement. “Understanding the importance of participation as well as giving back, he attended every reunion weekend, connecting with generations of alumni, ensuring their pride for Emerson College.”
But Cutler’s generosity and vision extended well beyond his alma mater.
As founder of Outside the Box, Boston’s free summer arts festival, Cutler brought an astonishing breadth of musicians, performers, innovators, and entrepreneurs to the city, offering residents a taste of the weird, wild, refined, and revolutionary.
ArtsEmerson founder Robert Orchard said Cutler wasn’t just a patron of the arts, but was also an ardent fan.
“He was out almost every night of the week, going to one thing or another,” Orchard said. “It was amazing, it exhausts me just thinking about it.”
He said he would often see Cutler at performances, and afterward, the two would discuss whatever they had just seen. But Cutler wasn’t a critic, he was an “enthusiast.”
“He wasn’t interested in judgment, though he had great taste,” Orchard said. “He knew too much about the collective effort it takes to put on a play or to choreograph a ballet.”
In 2011, the Theodore H. Cutler Family Charitable Trust received the Commonwealth Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in recognition of their arts philanthropy. He and Joan supported a number of arts and cultural organizations, as well as human services agencies such as the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“He identified problems, needs, or causes where he could help in some way, whether by providing new ideas, funds, or connections,” Trustee Marillyn Zacharis said. “And he worked hard and most often successfully to make others care as much as he did. His powers of persuasion were strong.”
President Lee Pelton, who met Cutler monthly for breakfast up until his death, wrote to the Emerson community on March 31. He said Cutler was “passionate about young people,” and devoted much of his later life to supporting organizations that provided youth with access to arts and education.
“He believed that arts and education changed lives through inspired and personal engagement with life’s most enduring themes,” Pelton wrote.
The son of Russian immigrants, Theodore Harry Cutler graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School in 1947 and attended Emerson College, where he earned a degree in Speech-Drama in 1951. While at Emerson, he was a member of Hillel and Rho Delta Omega, a radio fraternity.
Liebergott said she would ask Cutler what he thought was so special about Emerson, expecting that he would talk about music or the radio station.
“His answer was a faculty member named Arthur Eads, who used to take him to the [Museum of Fine Arts – Boston] and talk with him, a boy from Dorchester, about what the two of them saw there,” Liebergott said. “He said it was at Emerson that he learned many of his life lessons.”
After graduation, Cutler toured New England as a musician and bandleader, and founded a music agency, booking performers such as Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Later, he co-founded a successful corporate travel and convention business, and worked in the industry for several years.
Cutler served as chair of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Greater Boston and of the Board of Trustees of Hebrew College. He also served on the board of the Boston Ballet, the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center, and as a director of the American Liver Foundation. He was an honorary trustee of the National Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of American, and an overseer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“He left his mark on the entire community, from lighting Commonwealth Ave. to the Cutler Majestic Theatre to every health care and arts nonprofit in the city and beyond,” said Trustee Linda Schwartz ’67. “There will never be another Teddy.”
His wife, Joan, died in 2010. He leaves his sons, Robert Cutler and his wife Pam, and Joel Cutler and his wife Randi; daughter Ellen Calmas and her husband Richard; and several grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for Sunday, April 2, 12:45 pm, at Temple Israel, 477 Longwood Avenue, Boston, followed by burial in Kaminker Cemetery, 776 Baker Street, West Roxbury, and shiva at the Four Seasons in Boston at 4:15 pm.