“Dye coming,” was the warning Dick Hughes heard as a boy, swimming in the mill river by his home. Boyhood friends would take turns performing sentry duty, calling out to others when a fresh stream of dye waste was released by the mill into the river. They’d swim to the side until the multi-colored water passed.
He and I joked that it’s amazing he’s lived to this point (Dick’s 96!).
I was excited to see him, for he is one of the men I recall from my childhood, when he was lector at my church, St. Mary’s on Church St. A slender man with crew-cut hair (he said ‘due to many cowlicks,’) he wore black, horn-rimmed glasses.
Now, fifty years later, Dick’s still trim and still sports an engaging personality.
He met me in the second floor hallway, of his residence, leaning against the yellow wall, with a smile of recognition that widened as I approached.
Right now, this West Warwick man lives in Brookdale Assisted Living, in Coventry, where he is an active senior male in a facility where women outnumber men, probably fifty to one (my assumption.)
He chose Brookdale, after he checked many out. What did he discover along the way? Since facilities are constrained to fill their space and residents needing less supervision are in short supply, folks like him rank high on the preferred list.
In short, he could negotiate his rate, within reason.
Dick has a daughter, Cheryl Hart in California, and a son, David, who lives in Foster. Both adult children are from his sixty-one year marriage to Elsie who died in 2001. Elsie worked in the West Warwick mills, first, as engraver of floral designs on rollers and later, during the war, as stapler of camouflage material onto chicken wire netting.
The couple married in 1941 but Dick soon was drafted and became a photographer for the US Army. He learned to aim his camera through the belly of a fighter jet, mapping topography of the United States and many of his photos ironically ended up, at Warwick Mills, in West Warwick.
Somehow, Dick was always doing something that involved his hometown.
As a young man, Dick got his pilot’s license, only to give it up when he became a new father and couldn’t justify the $8.00 fee for renting the private plane he flew out of the Coventry Airfield.
Following his Army stint, he went into the US Post Office and maintained a route in Arctic for the next many years, retiring in 1975.
Then, Dick did service of a different nature: In 1978 he was elected to the Town Council but said “I was naïve.” Disappointed with the in-fighting and political divisiveness, he said: “It was tough getting anything done.” He never pursued another term.
He thinks, today, West Warwick would be better off if it had a strong town manager.
Later, under Mayor Mike Leveque, he became part-time Recreational Director, and credits Marilyn (Wegrzyn) Morin and Judy (DiChristofaro) Ouellette….whom he said ‘helped him inordinately.’ In this capacity, he got public works to donate a truck filled with playground equipment for recreation fields, a truck aptly named the “Rambling Rec” (an inside joke in that the truck was a “wreck.”)
And, for years, he was an integral member of “Coventry Players,” singing and performing in musicals.
But women, don’t get too excited, for Dick Hughes, at 96, has a lady friend….Ruth McGinley, a woman he met many years ago, through Ruth’s daughter, Kathy, when Kathy worked alongside Dick when Dick directed CYO plays.
Kathy was in charge of props and technical aspects.
One day Kathy said: “You seem to enjoy my mother’s company. Why don’t you ask her out to dinner?”
And the man who never seemed to let grass grow under his feet waffled.
It took him two whole weeks to ask Ruth out.
They’ve been going together ever since (Ruth has her own residence at Brookdale.)
So, aerial photographer, career postal worker… husband… father… performer…pilot …dedicated town servant…and valued friend.
West Warwick’s Dick Hughes continues to lead a fascinating life.
***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (email@example.com), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move. In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com