Lewis Wesley Cutrer, attorney, civic leader, and mayor of Houston, was born in Osyka, Mississippi, on November 5, 1904, one of four children of Judge Richard Wiltz and Elizabeth (Lewis) Cutrer. He was reared in Magnolia, Mississippi, and received his law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1926. Cutrer moved to Houston in 1928, having been encouraged by his father-in-law, who had been impressed with the vitality of the city while he was on a business trip to Texas. Cutrer made Houston his adopted city for the next fifty-three years.
After about two years of practicing law in two firms, he became an assistant city attorney when Walter Monteith was mayor of Houston (1929–33). Later, when Oscar F. Holcombe defeated Monteith in 1934, Cutrer joined with the ousted Monteith to organize a new law firm. They practiced together until 1939. Cutrer served as city attorney from 1941 until 1947 under mayors C. A. (Neal) Pickett and Otis Massey. He supported Mayor Roy Hofheinz in his election campaigns in 1952 and 1954. In 1955–56 he served as general counsel for the Houston Independent School District.
Cutrer made his first race for mayor in 1957, when he defeated longtime mayor Oscar Holcombe. He was unopposed in the 1959 election. In 1961 he defeated councilman Louie Welch in a run-off election. In 1963 Cutrer once again ran for mayor against Welch. This time, however, voters failed to return him to office, primarily because of increased residential-water rates brought about by the Lake Livingston project, which he had promoted. During his six-year administration Cutrer secured needed revenue by pushing through a bond issue, solved the controversy over the new charity hospital, and improved Houston's inadequate bus system. He considered his chief accomplishments, however, to be the development of the Lake Livingston project and the construction of Houston Intercontinental Airport. Lake Livingston, a man-made lake that was part of the Trinity River Project, solved Houston's industrial water shortage. The city and the Trinity River Authority agreed on terms to permit expansion of water supply to the year 2010. The change encouraged large industries to move to Houston and to expand existing plants in Harris and Chambers counties. Although voters rejected the project during Cutrer's administration, his successor, Louie Welch, won voter approval for the program a year after he replaced Cutrer. In successfully launching the project of acquiring a jet-age airport for Houston, Cutrer laid the groundwork for aviation changes and improvements that were realized later. His own administration bought the site, won new and improved air routes for Houston from the Civil Aeronautics Board, and hired professional planners to start mapping out the new facility. Cutrer also ordered an end to racial segregation in Houston city buildings, lunch counters, and swimming pools during the early 1960s. At the end of his mayoralty he returned to the private practice of law.
He served on the board of trustees of the United States Conference of Mayors and was president of the Texas Municipal League. He was a former president of the Texas City Attorneys' Association and president and director of the American Municipal Association. Cutrer was a Mason and a member of the board of stewards of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. He married Catherine Hopson on October 11, 1927, and they had three children. He died in a Houston hospital after a brief illness on May 7, 1981, and was buried in Memorial Oaks Cemetery.