An autobiographical obituary by the late Mike Hughes

by unfinishedthinking

After many unexplained delays, I have finally lived up to my prognosis and have at last departed this life. It’s been a life I’ve loved.

In the months leading up to this moment, I was astonished at the outpouring of love and caring and respect from hundreds of people.  There were handwritten notes, emails, blog posts, comments, letters, magazine articles, personal visits and phone calls. The tsunami of glorious thoughts sent my way has made it increasingly hard to justify my deep insecurity about my place in the world—an insecurity I’ve clung to all my life.

I want to take this last opportunity to clear up one common misjudgment in the oft-repeated, highly exaggerated list of my virtues.  Many of you have credited me with humility.  That’s not even close to true.

No one has ever been prouder of a marriage than I’ve been of my 38 years with Ginny.   There have been outrageous laughs, tears, squabbles, joys, illnesses, heartbreaks and thrills.  We’ve shared eye-opening travels and surrendered to high calorie challenges.  We’ve held hands during quiet moments that I’ve treasured more than any other.  Although we’ve never quite recovered from it, we somehow survived Preston’s death, holding on to each other the whole way.  I’m proud of that.  There’s been love and friendship and high expectations.  She’s made my life feel extraordinary even in its most ordinary moments.

Our sons have been the source of unending pride.  Preston, who provided some of the biggest adventures in my life, was always a handful, but he was also always his own man.  What father wouldn’t be proud of that?

And Jason.  Quick and smart and passionate and outspoken and funny and competent and good and nurturing.  I’ve never met a better man.

Jason brought us Carley and Ella, the daughter and granddaughter we wanted and needed.  There’s no room for humility in my feelings about my girls.  Carley is the best baker in the world and Ella is, as she’s quick to tell you, “the best drawer in the world.”   I’ve always been afraid of women and I’ve always been a feminist.  These are two of the reasons why.

I’m proud to have been the son of Ann and Jim. They loved each other as much as they loved Patti and me: there’s no better gift parents can give their children.  I’m proud we shared our home and I shared my room growing up with my uncle, Jim Kennedy, known to all as Foo Foo.

You can’t help being proud if Patti Hughes is your sister.   My whole life has been a quest to be as funny as Patti.  She’s lived a life filled to the top with great friends and great adventures around the world.  She’s taken care of our mother with a gentleness and strength few people could muster.

“Uncle Doctor Todd” Jarrell is an honorary third son and I’m proud to have him in the family.  And I’m equally proud to have Preston’s partner, David Jackson, as an honorary son-in-law.

I’m proud of my most intimate friends.  I won’t name them all, but it would be wrong not to mention George and Megan Douglas, Craig and Beverly Bowlus, Larry Hall and Flinn Dallis, Bruce and Nancy Mansfield, Ed and Eileen Kitces.   Over many years, they’ve put up with my crazy work hours and my general unreliability.  The conversations we’ve had have been invigorating.  I am especially proud to count many of their grown kids among my closest friends today.

I’m proud, too, to have lived and worked alongside incredibly talented people who were also incredibly good and generous people.  My mentors always treated me as valued friends.  Father Augustine made high school bearable and made me try new things.  During my newspaper days, Jerry Finch was the editor every young reporter should have.  Larry Kaplan was my first advertising boss, encouraging me early on to reach higher—even if it meant working somewhere else.  Bill Wynne was my first partner/mentor.  He brought out the entrepreneurial side of me.

Then there was Harry.  Harry Jacobs made The Martin Agency a contender in the industry worldwide–and he made me an advertising man.   He put me on a wonderful track that I’ve stayed on for 34 years.  I hope he’s half as proud of me as I am of him.

I’ve learned from many of the industry leaders I’ve worked with at The Martin Agency, but none taught me more or stuck with me longer than John Adams.  He’s the wonderfully stubborn, highly principled partner every creative director desperately needs.  He and I have had the extreme good fortune to work side by side with the best agency management people in the business.

I’m proud to have been one of the hundreds of people who put The Martin Agency on the map.  We owe a lot to our clients and stockholders, of course, but no one gets in this line in front of the men and women who earned their paychecks doing things a little group in Richmond, Virginia, wasn’t supposed to be able to do.  I can’t begin to list the account, planning, media, design, tech, administration, finance and business partners who have done the work for which I’ve been given so much credit.  I hope they know how much I’ve needed them and how much I’ve loved them.  I can’t remember the first time I said “I do work I love with people I love,” but I know I’ve said it thousands of times.  Every word is true.

A special call-out is due to the magnificent, crazy, elegant, messed-up, damn-near-perfect gaggle of creative partners who have put up with me for so long.  Hundreds of writers and art directors have come through the doors of the agencies I’ve been lucky enough to serve.  A huge number of those writers and art directors taught me valuable lessons—not just in advertising, but in how to live a meaningful, all-in life.  The greatest joy in our business comes not from a gold medal or a place in the industry hall of fame—it comes from doing the work and from doing it with people of integrity and ambition and good humor.

I’m embarrassed that I get way too much credit for the success of the VCU Brandcenter.  Diane Cook Tench, Rick Boyko, Gene Trani, Helayne Spivak, the students, the alumni, the faculty and the administration deserve all the bows.  Still I’m proud (if a little self-conscious) that my name’s on the side of the building.  And I proudly liberate the current administration from any obligation it might feel to keep that giant painting of me hanging over the stairway.

I should say I’m proud of all the honors I’ve been accorded in my career, but the truth is, I’ve never been sure I deserved them.  I’m a hall of fame creative director because I’ve worked for and with hall of fame caliber people.  My honorary doctorate—and every other citation and award I’ve collected–is also an honor for those people.  I am inordinately proud to have represented the groups I’ve represented.

I’m both proud of and grateful to the people who have taken care of me in the cancer years.  Julie Garner made the appointment for me to visit Johns Hopkins.  Helen Vennard and Susan Lueke have been eternally patient with America’s medical systems and with me.  I have no idea how they do that.  They wrapped their arms around Ginny, Jason’s family and me and made us feel safe and protected and indulged.

One final thought.  I hope each of you enjoys every minute of your life.  You’ve all contributed so much to mine.

And one last favor.  Keep me in your thoughts. I love you.