MARGATE — Everyone from local dignitaries to average South Jersey residents came to praise Ambassador William J. Hughes on Thursday during Beth El Synagogue’s annual dinner.

The 84-year-old Ocean City resident practiced law locally before being appointed to the Prosecutor’s Office in Cape May County, where he served for 10 years. He won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and held his seat for two decades under five presidents.

President Bill Clinton appointed Hughes to the role of U.S. ambassador to Panama in 1995. Hughes is currently a visiting distinguished scholar at Stockton University in Galloway Township. He was honored for his service when the FAA Technical Center was renamed the William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Hughes was contacted five months ago and asked if he would accept a lifetime achievement award.

“It’s a wonderful synagogue. Beth El has been servicing the greater Margate community now for over 55 years,” Hughes said. “It’s a special honor for me to be singled out.”

Mike Ebert, 64, had not seen Hughes for 30 years, but he made an appearance during the cocktail hour to wish Hughes congratulations and make sure Hughes’ work on behalf of disabled veterans was remembered along with his advocacy for the environment and tightening of gun and drug laws.

Ebert, of Egg Harbor Township, first met Hughes in 1971 when Ebert was at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Hughes used to take Ebert and six other guys fishing at the Ocean City Yacht Club. He would bring them back to his house where his wife, Nancy, would cook dinner for them. He said Hughes did this a dozen times during one year.

Hughes and Ebert rewrote a bill that made it easier for disabled veterans to earn their insurance broker’s licenses.

Ebert said Hughes hand carried it through the U.S. Congress and saw it passed into law. Ebert was the first person to be able to take advantage of the new law in 1981. He has had his insurance broker’s license ever since.

“He was just a staunch supporter of disabled vets,” Ebert said.

State Sen. Jim Whelan said he has known Hughes for more than 35 years.

“Frankly, he was my mentor when I first got into politics in Atlantic City,” Whelan said. “He was always kind enough to offer me some guidance and wise counsel and still does.”

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