GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — At 85, William J. Hughes has had a lifetime of accomplishments.
The Ocean City resident served 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and another three years as an ambassador to Panama. Prior to that, he spent a decade as a prosecutor.
His legacy has been honored time and again with buildings, centers, scholarships, streets and even a beach. For South Jersey, “Bill” Hughes is an icon.
In that vein, Stockton University will present Hughes with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hughes Center Honors on Nov. 9, presented by his longtime friend, Vice President Joe Biden.
Hughes’ son, Bill Hughes Jr., 50, was not surprised his dad was being honored because, he said, his dad is “quite an amazing guy.”
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Hughes Center Honors will recognize six New Jersey leaders at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club on Nov. 9.
“He’s not only been a tremendous role model for my sisters and for me, he’s also been one of my best friends,” said Hughes Jr., of Northfield.
Growing up during his dad’s tenure in Congress exposed the younger Bill Hughes to some “amazing times” and influenced his own life goals. Hughes Jr., a lawyer, ran for Congress in 2014 in an attempt to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
“When I was a kid, before my sisters graduated, I played at the White House with Amy Carter, who was my age at the time,” Hughes Jr. said. “To a kid, growing up in that for my sisters and for me, it was something for us at the time that was normal, but looking back upon it you appreciate how extraordinary it was.”
Hughes’ daughter Lynne Hughes, of Ocean City, said her father and mother always instilled in her and her siblings that family comes first.
“That gave each of us a solid foundation. They taught us by example that you do what is right and the rest of it will do for itself,” Lynne Hughes said.
She said her father had the same persona in both public and private life, and passed on a sense of service to his children.
“I’m just so proud of both my parents. It’s nice to have the recognition; that he can see it. He’s worked really hard,” Lynne Hughes said.
Raised in Salem County, Hughes graduated from Penns Grove High School and attended law school at Rutgers University. Sixty years ago, Hughes and his wife, Nancy, moved to the Gardens section of Ocean City, where they raised their family, three daughters and a son.
“That was always our home, even though I was in Washington for 21 years,” Hughes said.
It was a job as a law clerk that brought him to the island. He served as a prosecutor in Cape May County before eventually becoming president of his own firm, Loveland, Hughes and Garrett, in Ocean City. In 1975, Hughes was elected to Congress, serving New Jersey’s 2nd District.
When asked what his biggest accomplishment was, Hughes didn’t hesitate.
“My family,” he said.
Legislatively, though, Hughes said he is proud of his work to ban ocean dumping — a 17-year pursuit — which played a big role in his decision to run for office.
“At that point, everybody and their brother — the large municipalities like New York City, northern New Jersey communities, Philadelphia, Camden — all were dumping sewage, sludge, chemicals, medical waste in the ocean,” Hughes said.
Hughes also campaigned on and was able to keep the FAA Tech Center from being relocated to Oklahoma. The center is now named for him.
He said he also worked on the House Judiciary Committee, often partnering on criminal legislation with then-Sen. Joe Biden.
“I think Joe Biden and I worked on close to 50 crime bills. Some of the major crime initiatives are with us today,” Hughes said, listing laws that dealt with automatic and assault weapons, money laundering, forfeiture regulations and anti-terrorism.
Hughes said many things have changed in Washington from the time he served until now. He was always surprised by the amount of time a candidate spent campaigning and fundraising, but now, Hughes said, the amount of money in politics “borders on obscene.”
“Unfortunately, it raises questions about your responsiveness to your constituency when you have a lot of special interest groups that are basically financing elections today,” Hughes said.
He also criticized the lack of bipartisanship at the Capitol.
“There was an understanding of the need for compromise. Compromise in some sectors today is not an acceptable word. You can’t really legislate unless you have the give-and-take between people who realize there’s another point of view out there,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he was “honored and flattered” to be honored by the policy center named for him at Stockton University.
“In fact, I tried to talk them out of it. I was overruled on this one. I thought there were others that I felt would have been very appropriate,” Hughes said.
The awards are not annual. Two years ago, the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy honored former Gov. Tom Kean.
This year, in addition to Hughes, those recognized include Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, state Sen. Diane Allen, the late state Sen. Jim Whelan, alumna and Montclair University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison and alumna Maryam Sarhan. The event is being held at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.
Hughes Center Executive Director Sharon Schulman said it was the perfect time to honor Hughes, who remains active in the community, sitting on local and regional boards of trustees.
“We all felt there is nobody that embodies civility and good government better than Ambassador Bill Hughes. So we plotted behind his back,” Schulman said. “We just wanted to do it while he’s hale and hardy and active.”
“I enjoy the community work,” Hughes said.