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So many in Orangeburg and surroundings came to know A.J. Hutto during their time of need. As owner and operator of Dukes-Harley Funeral, following in the footsteps of his uncles Clifton and I.S. Harley, the Orangeburg native assisted families with compassion and professionalism for nearly four decades.

Azel James 'A.J.' Hutto Jr. -- Orangeburg

Hutto, who died Jan. 6, was a leader in his profession. He was active in the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association and was instrumental in the creation of South Carolina consumer-protection laws for the funeral industry. He was past president of the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association and held positions with the National Funeral Directors Association.

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Hutto served his community in roles such as president of the Orangeburg Rotary Club and Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce. He made contributions also through actions such as donating the historic Russell Street building that once housed the funeral home to the Orangeburg League of the Arts. And Hutto was the host annually for a meal honoring law enforcement officers and emergency responders.

Less known by many is Hutto’s decorated career before Dukes-Harley Funeral Home.

He was a pioneer in the helicopter industry as an employee with Boeing. For 20 years, Hutto helped produce and test experimental helicopters such as CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-47 Chinook.

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Graduating from Clemson College with an engineering degree, Hutto went to work for Lockheed. As an Army pilot for five years, he flew aircraft such as the L-20 Beaver. Leaving the military in 1961, Hutto went to work for Boeing's helicopter division near Philadelphia. There he helped in hands-on testing of all models and was the leader of a project to construct a series of helicopters designed for heavy lifting.

During his time at Boeing, he contributed by making components in his basement, helping design safety cargo hooks and the actual joystick knob, which he used to fly the "Fly by Wire" helicopter. During the fall of 1974, Hutto made the first manned flight completely "Fly by Wire" in the heavy-lift helicopter and was awarded the Frederick L. Feinberg Award presented to pilots of “a vertical flight aircraft who accomplished the most outstanding achievement in the preceding year.”

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A.J. Hutto will be missed in Orangeburg even as Dukes-Harley Funeral Home continues to be operated by his sons. He leaves his family and community so many reasons to celebrate his accomplishments during 86 years of life.

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