By Donald Wittkowski
Throughout his long and distinguished career in politics and public service, there was one constant in the life of former Congressman and Ambassador Bill Hughes – Nancy, his wife of 61 years, was always there by his side, Hughes recalled.
Nancy Hughes, who died in January at 82 years old, was fondly remembered Thursday night for her devotion to her husband, her children and her grandchildren and her dedication to her beloved Ocean City, her home for more than 55 years.
“Nancy loved Ocean City. I don’t have to tell you that,” Bill Hughes said during a ceremony in her memory at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
Councilman Keith Hartzell, who read from a resolution honoring Nancy Hughes, told Hughes that he believed his “greatest accomplishment” was his marriage to such a remarkable woman.
“Thank you for the wonderful gift of your wife,” Hartzell said.
Bill Hughes, 85, was surrounded by members of his family, including his son, Bill Jr., and daughters Lynne Hughes, Barbara Hughes Sullivan and Tama Hughes, in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The Council members joined the family for the ceremony
The Council resolution honored Nancy Hughes for dedicating her life “to the service of her family, friends, church, country and community.”
It noted that she was the cornerstone of her husband’s political career as a South Jersey congressman from 1975 to 1995 and as ambassador to Panama from 1995 to 1998 under former President Bill Clinton. Her duties included serving as her husband’s political confidant and running his campaign offices.
“She was at my side the entire time we were together,” Hughes said.
Hughes described stressful days in Washington, D.C., politics that Nancy would help him overcome. He said both of them found comfort in returning home to Ocean City.
“That kept us going, knowing we would just be back in Ocean City,” he said.
“It’s a great town,” Hughes added. “This city has been special to us.”
They are honored together by having their names on the Bill and Nancy Hughes Performing Arts Center at Ocean City High School. The resolution said Nancy Hughes was dedicated to the school district and its students, including her involvement in the campaign to build a new high school.
Mayor Jay Gillian is quoted in the resolution as saying that he considers Bill and Nancy Hughes as among the greatest influences in his campaign for “Unity in the Community.”
“That’s not only how he governed as a former congressman, but how they both lived their lives,” Gillian said. “They taught me that I could be the best mayor by working with everybody.”
Surrounded by her family, Nancy Hughes died on Jan. 4 at home while in hospice care, after an eight-year battle with a neurological disease similar to ALS.
In other business Thursday, Council heard warnings from a former member of the Ocean City Environmental Commission about the potential health risks of a weed-killing chemical used by one of the city’s landscaping contractors for public grounds.
Donna Moore told Council that the chemical dithiopyr, which is commercially used to control crabgrass, acts both as a pesticide and herbicide. She said it is a known cancer-causing agent and potential groundwater contaminant. She also explained that it is toxic to fish, mollusks and plankton as well as insects such as honey bees.
Moore urged Council to have the city’s contractors begin using a more environmentally friendly chemical to control weeds on public grounds. Council told her that the city plans to study other possible chemicals as an alternative to dithiopyr, but no decisions have been made.
“Your dedication to your cause is certainly to be commended,” Councilman Bob Barr said to Moore.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger said he supports the idea of using an eco-friendly alternative, but added that it must have a proven track record and cost about the same as dithiopyr.
“I thank you for your efforts. You’re on a virtuous mission,” DeVlieger told Moore.
In response, Moore thanked the Council members for their “receptive ear.”
“I’m speaking for a voiceless entity, which is the environment where we live,” she said.
Also Thursday, John Flood, a former councilman who is challenging Gillian in the city’s May 8 mayoral election, questioned why the city is spending a total of $116,000 to hire four entertainers during the annual Night In Venice boat parade weekend over the summer.
In response, the Council members explained that the entertainers are part of efforts to draw more visitors to town, boost business for local merchants and capitalize on the publicity that bigger-name performers will generate for the city through social media.
“It’s money well spent. It’s well thought out,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell and other Council members also pointed out that the city spends only a tiny amount for tourism-related entertainment compared to the multimillion-dollar tourism budgets of other seashore towns that compete with Ocean City.