Reflections on the Passing of Former N.J. Congressman & South Jersey Advocate Bill Hughes

By: Christian Oberly

Joe Biden presents Ambassador Hughes with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Hughes Center Honors at Stockton University. (Photo courtesy of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.)

NEW JERSEY — Former New Jersey Congressman William J. Hughes passed away peacefully on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the age of 87. Hughes represented New Jersey’s 2nd District in Congress for 21 years from 1974 to 1995, and afterward served as Ambassador to Panama for the Clinton Administration. He was an active advocate for South Jersey and focused on many issues affecting our region, such as preserving the Jersey Shore and Pine Barrens against pollution and development.

The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, which was named in honor of Hughes’ work, issued statements from both their Executive Director John Froonjian, as well as President of Stockton University Harvey Kesselman.

Froonjian’s letter reads:

The passing of Ambassador Bill Hughes is a sad loss for me personally and for our democratic society at large. South Jersey, and indeed the nation, has lost a great statesman. His story is forever tied to the recent history of this region. As our 2nd District representative, Congressman Hughes was a leader on the environment, ocean quality, pinelands preservation, and keeping what is now the William J. Hughes Technical Center from moving to Oklahoma. He was a national leader on legislation concerning guns, crime, aging issues and trademark and copyright law. But the most powerful lesson in today’s era of political tribalism and partisan warfare may be that politicians could be civil and bipartisan and still be effective. He treated everyone regardless of party with courtesy and respect, and his gentlemanly approach helped improve many lives. It is no wonder President Bill Clinton relied on Ambassador Hughes’ diplomatic skills to prepare a smooth transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control. His decency and advocacy of South Jersey endeared him to countless people in this region. The Hughes Center for Public Policy mourns the passing of our namesake, our mentor and our friend. We rededicate our efforts to promote civic engagement and civility in our public conversations to the memory of Ambassador Hughes.

Several New Jersey politicians also shared their reflections on Hughes’ life and achievements.

In a statement released by Governor Phil Murphy, he says, “Congressman Bill Hughes represented his South Jersey district for 20 years, but he was nothing less than a New Jersey icon. He was a public school product and a Rutgers graduate two times over. As a prosecutor in Cape May, he fought to keep residents safe. As a respected Congressman, he fought to protect the Jersey Shore from polluters and the Pinelands from development. As U.S. Ambassador to Panama under President Clinton, he served our nation on the world stage. Tammy and I are saddened to learn of his passing, and send our condolences to his children and their families, and to all who knew him and called him a friend. […] Congressman Hughes will continue to inspire future leaders through the work of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, perhaps the most fitting tribute to his tremendous legacy.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney also released a statement, saying, “We have lost one of the most distinguished and accomplished public officials to serve New Jersey. Bill Hughes was devoted to the people he served in his congressional district, the State of New Jersey and the country. He gained the respect and appreciation of all who worked with him and he was a model of bipartisanship who demonstrated that public service is a noble calling. […] I express my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones. We share in their loss but know that he will be remembered always for his achievements and for the example he set for others.”

Representative Jeff Van Drew expressed his pride in Hughes — from one New Jersey congressman to another. “I am saddened to hear of the passing of William “Bill” J. Hughes, former U.S. Representative and Ambassador. Mr. Hughes has fought for South Jersey for decades and it is an honor to have known him and followed in his footsteps. South Jersey and the world are better for having had him.”

From Washington, U.S. Senator Cory Booker echoed many of his peers sentiments, saying, “I am deeply saddened to learn of Representative Bill Hughes’ passing. He was a beloved public servant who, through his work in Congress and as an Ambassador, demonstrated pragmatism, civility, and above all else, love of country. The Jersey Shore is cleaner and our communities are safer because of Bill’s accomplishments during his two decades in Congress. His legacy not only lives on in Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy and the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, but also in his children, friends, and all who were privileged to know him. Bill was an extraordinary New Jerseyan, and he will be greatly missed.”

To learn more about Bill Hughes’ life and legacy, visit the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy website.

According to the Press of Atlantic City, a viewing will be held Sunday afternoon at the Ocean City Tabernacle, and church services will be held on Monday morning at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Ocean City. Hughes’ obituary can be viewed here.