A woman who for decades was one of Victoria’s most tireless community advocates has died.
Helen Hughes, a former 18-year city councillor and longtime volunteer known for her keen interest in people and their welfare, was 89.
Asked how she would remember Hughes, a fellow councillor for 15 years, Pamela Madoff said it would be her “indefatigable” determination, her inexhaustible energy and her focus on getting things done.
“I think it was that steely determination that was perhaps at odds with how she appeared, and her ongoing commitment to issues and causes that were important to her,” Madoff said Monday.
Predeceased in 2020 by her longtime husband Ted, a renowned judge and fellow philanthropist and community leader, Hughes was residing at Mount St. Mary Hospital at the time of her passing.
She was elected to Victoria council in 1990 and served for 18 years, along the way becoming deeply involved with organizations benefiting at-risk youth and others in the community. As Greater Victoria Public Library board member she founded the Lifelong Learning Festival on International Literacy Day, and as council’s downtown liaison helped organize the Capital Region Action Team on Sexually Exploited Youth.
During and after her time on council, she was well known for her tireless work promoting the Souper Bowls of Hope fundraiser for the Youth Empowerment Society (YES).
Former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe, who was elected and stepped down from council at the same time as Hughes and remained friends with the family, said she had a good heart and kept social justice issues as top priorities.
“She cared about the youth and she wanted to ensure that there were enough funds for youth programs,” he said, noting her dedication to YES was unflagging. Lowe called Hughes a “pro-development councillor, one that supported growth and supported the downtown, but she also supported social programs. She also wanted to make sure the city was very inclusive.”
Staffers at Black Press Media’s downtown office were familiar with Hughes’ thirst for knowledge about the community, as every week she would stop by to pick up copies of each of the community newspapers, to make sure she didn’t miss anything.
Madoff characterized her as being “very clearly spoken” within and outside of council. “There was no doubt about what she had to say and how she felt about an issue. She seemed to be someone who never questioned her own opinion,” Madoff said, adding such an attitude served her well.
Hughes worked for much of her life as a civic leader, organizer and volunteer.
Born in Vancouver, she moved to Saskatoon in 1950 and earned a degree in home economics four years later. The same year, 1954, she married Ted Hughes.
An active volunteer in Saskatoon, she was elected to city council in 1976 and served one term. Of particular interest to her was the well-being of people from First Nations communities. Her later work building bridges between urban Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents earned her an appointment as a member of the Order of Canada in 1982.
The list of non-profits and charitable organizations she supported while in the Saskatchewan city included the Consumers Association, Allergy Foundation, YWCA, Big Sisters and the Regional Psychiatric Centre.
Upon returning to B.C. in 1980, Hughes worked in the Ombudsman’s office for five years and joined the B.C. Council of Human Rights.
She and her husband were also active supporting and socializing with the many people from their former province who had made their way to B.C., Lowe said. But they also were very involved with their grandchildren, he added, and were devastated at the sudden loss of their only daughter Sheila, in 2010.
Hughes was granted honourary degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, University of Victoria and Royal Roads University, and joined her husband Ted in receiving RRU’s Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award in 2009. Other honours included the Ann MacLean Award for Outstanding Service by a Woman in Municipal Politics and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), a Lifetime Achievement Award from Leadership Victoria (2009) and the Victoria Foundation’s Generous Spirit Award (2008).
Hughes leaves behind three sons, David, Keith (Lori) and Brian (Elizabeth), and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
No details about a service have yet been announced by the family.
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