– By Janet Forbes
Deaconess Jean Hughes died on the 11th October, 2018.
Mum was not very tall, but don’t be fooled by the little North Shore Lady –beneath the David Jones jacket, the pearls, the neatly permed hair and the White Linen perfume, was a highly intelligent, very organised, very caring woman, always one step ahead, with a great love of family, community and a deep Christian faith.
Jean Lucile Wright was born on 6th August, 1926 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, USA. Her parents had been were seconded to Pennsylvania for a year on a project that was soon to end, but the baby came early. So Mum was born an American citizen. She grew up in Wollongong and later went to Fort Street Girls High School.
She matriculated at 16, but her dad thought it was too young for a girl to go to University, so he made her repeat her final year. She used that year well, captaining the Fort Street Girls Debating Team which faced Fort Street Boys in the finals that year and won. The boy’s captain was Neville Wran. As a result of her enforced extra year of study, she did well in her final exams, especially in English, History and Latin, and won an Exhibition Scholarship to Sydney Uni.
At university Mum wanted to do Social Work, but there was no undergraduate degree in Social Work in Australia back then, so she studied Arts (History and English) and then completed a 2 year post grad Diploma in Social Work.
After graduation she worked for several years as a Social worker and the Dean of Sydney asked her to start the Anglican Marriage Guidance Centre, although she herself was only 23 and single. She worked there 3 years, in a tiny room at the back of the Cathedral!
Through the Evangelical Union at university, Mum had met Wal Hughes , a young medical student. They were married in December 1949 at St Philip’s Church, Church Hill. After graduation, Wal tried his hand at General Practice in Ryde but really wanted to be a surgeon. So in December 1959, Mum packed up their young children, Janet and David, and set sail on a ship to England, where Dad studied postgraduate Surgery for two years. Two years later, they returned to Sydney and Dad became a surgeon and their third child Pam was born. They moved to Turramurra and joined St James Anglican church.
When Pam went to school, mum became restless, so she decided to retrain, as a high school teacher. At the time there was a teacher shortage in NSW and the Dept. of Education was offering fast-track courses in teaching to graduates of English and Maths. Mum jumped at the chance.
Mum’s first teaching job was at Abbotsleigh, Wahroonga, where she taught English, History and Economics. She was a natural teacher and loved teaching girls. She liked to see them learn more than was expected and encouraged them to think out of the box and try new things! In 1977, she moved to Roseville College where she was also very happy. She retired from teaching in 1984. However, she really didn’t like being at home and Dad showed no sign of retiring, so Mum decided to retrain.
So, in 1986 at the age of 60, with Dad’s support, she began Theological Study at Deaconess House. She may have been based with the women but she went to Moore Theological College for lectures with the men. She graduated in 1990 with a Th.L. She was the oldest student to graduate, and she admitted that she found studying Greek in her 60’s very hard!
Mum was ordained by the Archbishop Loane as an Anglican Deaconess in 1990. She was the second last Deaconess ever ordained and, at the age of 64, the oldest. She had always been a keen supporter of the recognition of the role of women in the church, long before she herself was in ministry.
Once she was ordained, mum wanted to work. Work was usually hard to find for a woman of her age, but in Feb 1990 she was appointed Parish Assistant at All Saints Anglican Church in Waitara. At Waitara mum worked full-time (but non-stipendiary) for 7 years. She visited the sick, the housebound, the dying, and others needing counselling or just a listening ear. She was quickly recognised as an enthusiastic, caring and competent, member of staff. She loved preaching and was described in the Waitara church history as “clear and interesting; leading services with poise and sincerity and always willing to go the extra mile to help anyone who asked”.
Mum loved working in a multi-cultural community at Waitara. Mum saw both opportunities and challenges for the new migrants in the area, so with her teaching background she started ESL classes for those new migrants who wanted to learn English. This was one of the earliest in Sydney Diocese. The area was full of young families, and she became very enthused with the idea of bringing local mum’s and babies together, which was also not so common at that time. She started a Wednesday playgroup at Waitara. She was now 70 and found getting down on the floor quite hard on her knees. She also started a Casserole Ministry to those who were ill, visited local nursing homes weekly and was a volunteer chaplain at Hornsby Hospital.
Mum retired from Waitara, returned to St James, Turramurra and became an Honorary Deaconess at St James for several years. With her combined experience as a social worker, deaconess and hospital chaplain, she was asked to serve on the Board of Hope Healthcare which, among other things ran Neringah Hospital at Wahroonga, Greenwich Hospital and Braeside Hospital. She enjoyed that role and felt it was a really worthwhile contribution to the community.
Sadly, Dad died in 2005 and Mum, in one blow, lost her best friend and her greatest supporter. She moved into UPA Redleaf Apartments in Wahroonga where she lived for 11 happy years. The manager said that Mum was very genuinely and publicly loyal, both to Dad’s memory and to her Christian faith.
She also recalled how impressed she was that Mum would visit all the residents of Redleaf who were ill, especially those in palliative care. Mum drove people weekly to St James for church; first assisted with, then assumed the responsibility for organising the monthly communion church service at Redleaf and then started and led a Bible Study for anyone interested. That group met for 10 years.
In 2017, her health finally forced her to make the hard decision to give up her apartment and move into the UPA Nursing Home. Even in the nursing home a few weeks ago, Mum was preparing for a Bible Study with a small group of residents. Her mind was not as strong as it had been, but her heart was still in teaching about God, and caring and sharing with those around her.
Mum loved watching Doc Martin and the ABC news, reading the newspaper, particularly the political news (she had the Herald sitting on her bed in her last few days in hospital and was genuinely angry that the Prime Minister had been dumped!) She loved bright flowers, reading novels, going to movies at Roseville and the Opera and Ballet at the Opera House. She also loved David Jones. We had family celebrations at their cafes, and her 92nd Birthday lunch just a few weeks ago was at David Jones at Hornsby. We were planning on seeing the movie Ladies in Black together, but it wasn’t to be.There were so many aspects to Mum’s life and I can’t sum her up in 15 minutes. But most of all, Mum loved her family and her Lord. She is safe Home with Him now, but she will be very greatly missed.