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In the heady early days of DOC with Eric Kierans as Minister and Allan Gotlieb as DM, our legal advisor was Craig Hughes. He passed away on November 11 at age 95. He had a great interest in the North and was of great assistance to us in the early 70s when we were working on what was to become the Northern Communications policy. His daughter, Deryn, became a radio operator with DOT and served in the Arctic.
2 December 2012
Published in The Ottawa Citizen on November 17, 2012
Obituary: Craig Parry Hughes, 1917-2012
A man of his words: Poetic inspiration and enthusiasm for the world filled his years
By Bruce Deachman, Ottawa Citizen
Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
In the photo that accompanied his death notice in the paper, Craig Hughes hoists a mug of beer, an indication of his penchant for celebratory toasts.
And there were, over the years, many occasions to celebrate: a wedding, for one, and the births of three children, as well as a few career moves and new homes.
As one of the founder members of the Twin Elm Rugby Park in Nepean, his was the inaugural pint lifted at its bar. And sometimes of late, just the completion of an afternoon’s drive in the country with his daughter Deryn was cause enough to close out the day with a quick pint of Beau’s over dinner at the Ashton Pub, The Swan at Carp or The Cheshire Cat, his three favourite haunts.
And when a serious fall a handful of years ago brought about the discussion of moving out of his west-end home and into somewhere where he could receive closer care, he politely declined offers from his son Owen and Deryn to move in with them in Connecticut or North Carolina, respectively, citing among his reasons his disdain for American beer and that country’s apparently equal disdain for televised rugby.
Besides, Ottawa was his home, or had been, at least, since 1967, when he and Nan and two of their three children, Owen and Sara, moved here from Whitehorse, where for five years Craig served as senior legal adviser to Commissioner Gordon Cameron and registrar of land titles for the Yukon Territory. The eldest of their children, Deryn, just out of high school then and wholly taken by the northern frontier, chose to remain behind.
In the Yukon, Craig helped organize the Territory’s participation in the first Canadian Winter Games in 1967 and, for Canada’s Centennial celebrations that year, was also part of the effort to bring about the first ascent and naming of 13 peaks in the St. Elias mountain range; one for each of the 12 provinces and territories, and one for the centennial itself.
In Ottawa, he worked for the Department of Justice, serving various federal departments and Crown corporations.
Craig Parry Hughes was born in 1917 in Dolgellau, a northern Welsh market town of just over 2,000 inhabitants, below the mountain Cader Idris, or Chair of Idris, named for the mythological warrior giant and astronomer whose rock-hewn chair at the peak is said to bring death, madness or poetic inspiration to those who spend a night there.
It’s not known if Craig ever overnighted on that craggy summit, but he most surely would have at some point scaled the 900-metre hill. And he certainly suffered from poetic inspiration, as throughout his 95 years he filled journals and a hard drive, the latter sadly lost at some point to the caprice of technology, with poems, limericks, reminiscences, short stories, diary entries and the like.
“Anything involving words was fair game for him,” says Owen, who recalls as a child being sent numerous times from the family supper table to go look up definitions and etymologies in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Additionally, Craig was hard-pressed to pass untouched the bargain section of a bookstore, often returning home with how-to guides on such languages as Urdu, Persian, Farsi, Swahili or Finnish, the pages of which would soon be crowded with his annotations, underscores and exclamation marks. Later, he might amuse friends with foreign phrases and proverbs. “Oongt kis karwat baithta hai,” he would advise in Urdu. “Let us see which way the camel sits.”
On car drives, he and Nan, whom Deryn describes as “the quiet catalyst for, and partner in, my father’s more noticeable antics and adventures” (and who taught herself Russian, and, for fun, took courses in welding and taxidermy, the latter after Craig accidentally hit a mink while driving), would often playfully test each other’s verbal facility in Italian. And when the family moved in 1962 from Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood to Whitehorse, Craig brought along for the drive volumes of Robert Service poems, and paid the kids a quarter for each stanza they could memorize during the trip. And over their time in the Yukon, meanwhile, he insisted his children learn Latin, which had to be done through correspondence courses.
“He was a tough taskmaster,” Deryn recalls, “and we didn’t always appreciate it back then, but have more and more as the years have gone by.”
A member of the Ottawa Welsh Society, he loved music, too, and easily switched churches — and religious affiliations — depending on where others with Welsh roots were singing and worshipping.
Craig and Nan — Nancy Wayne Bragdon — met in London shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. She, from Larchmont, N.Y., and having just graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts, had gone with a friend to the U.K. for a tour via bicycle. He, after attending Aberystwyth University in preparation for a career in law, was in London, working for the summer at a hostel near King’s Cross.
She was soon smitten by the handsome Welshman, and he by the free-spirited American, and after she returned to the U.S. and he joined the Royal Navy, serving in the Mediterranean aboard HMS Griffin (later, coincidentally, transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and rechristened HMCS Ottawa), the pair corresponded regularly. He went through officer training and, in a rugby match traditionally played by graduates, injured his right arm so severely — his entire brachial plexus of nerve fibres was destroyed — that he permanently lost the use of it and was forced to learn to live with only his left.
“He never let the injury stop him from anything he wanted to do,” remembers Deryn. “He did a lot of woodworking. He was an artist — he did sketches and watercolours, and tried his hand at calligraphy, too.”
He also hunted and fished, cross-country skied and snowshoed, and surprised the kids in the middle of the night with impromptu fire drills, during which they were expected to, from a dead sleep, wrap themselves in their blankets and roll down the stairs and out the door.
“I think I still have bruises from those days,” jokes Deryn, noting that a 3 a.m. wakeup call didn’t always point to a test of emergency preparedness; occasionally it marked the start of a camping trip, sometimes on the coldest and wettest winter nights.
“I would call my father an adventurous, erudite curmudgeon of the most interesting kind.”
Craig spent a year in the hospital as a result of his injury, and he and Nan, who had been working as personal assistant to author and playwright Lillian Hellman, married in Dolgellau in 1946, and settled in Blackpool, and then Wakefield, where Deryn was born in 1949. But Nan, the story goes, grew weary of the soot and tinned milk, and so the family booked passage on the Queen Mary a year later and emigrated to New York, where Owen was born.
Craig’s British legal training, however, didn’t transfer well to the U.S. system, and so they moved again, this time to Toronto, where he became senior counsel for Odeon Theatres, and where, in 1955, Sara was born.
(Deryn recalls that although her father could get his kids into any movies for free, they were rarely allowed to go, and only ever saw Disney movies with friends at birthday parties. And although he rarely spoke of his war experiences, the films he typically took them to were war ones such as The Guns of Navarone and The Bridge on the River Kwai.)
Craig fought vociferously for things he believed in. When Sara, while working in Gravenhurst in 1984 in the art department on the Nicolas Cage/Christopher Plummer/Cynthia Dale film The Boy in Blue, was struck and killed by a drunken boater, it was Craig’s efforts that brought about changes to the laws regarding watercraft operation.
“That’s the sort of feist he had,” says Deryn. “There was a lot to him, and I feel rather lucky to have been his child.
“He gave us the sense that we could do anything we want — or anything good that we wanted, and that we could somehow take care of ourselves.”
It was, Owen notes, his father’s enthusiasm for the world that marked his 95 years on it. “He spent many years of it without the use of his right arm, but he seized life with both hands, always.”
My father once told me about his grandfather on his mother’s side ... his Taid was pre-religious methodist revival ... smoked ... liked a pipe ... farming background ... came home and told my Nain to fetch his Sunday clay pipe and a tankard of beer ... emptied the beer ... finished his smoke ... said G’bye ... and died in the corner by the hearth. Somewhere in an Anglesey village graveyard there is a coffin with a tankard and a clay pipe.
Would my father lie to me? ... or I to you?
— Craig Parry Hughes, 2005.
The limbs are bare
just for today.
Soon ... lush finery
Will be repaired
From earthen closets everywhere.
And jewels of sun
Will grace the wrists
And let the dance begin.
— Deryn Hughes Blackmon. 2008.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen