It seemed to happen an awful lot in 2014 — the death of people whose faces and lives we’ve grown accustomed to being woven into the fabric of Rumson-Fair Haven area life.
There were times it seemed that the fine people manning the Fair Haven Firehouse marquee couldn’t even keep up. It’s the place in the area where the news of loss is often spread.
In 2014 it seemed that there were all too frequent tiny gasps and self-mutterings of “Oh, no!” as a ride by the firehouse revealed yet another passing. It all seemed to echo as yet another familiar face flashed and a memory was evoked.
We said it in the memorial tribute to Mimi Hughes. We, at Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, are dedicated to remembering those who have passed.
Why? Because, as the line in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel put it, “As long as one person on Earth remembers you, it’s not over.”
Well, it’s not over for them or us. These people, in one way or another, contributed to life in the area and were part of our lives.
We honor them with a photo and a token of remembrance.
Take the journey with us …
George Giffin, 85, longtime RFH science teacher and dance instructor extraordinaire, May 15
This true area icon could get Attila the Hun to crack a smile.
The man, known for his true appreciation of dance, would pretty much break into a routine wherever he was.
This editor ran into him a couple of times in the recent past — at the Fair Haven centennial and Fairwinds Deli in Fair Haven.
He never forgot a face, either. He knew who I was from 30-something years past in high school when he taught me ballroom dance and I was abysmal.
I asked him then what advice he had for the many teens he taught to dance. He told me he still made appearances at RFH grads’ and their kids’ weddings to get them through the festivities with his special blend of dance instruction.
His motto, he said at the time: “When you get that beat, you gotta move your feet.”
Keep dancing, Mr. Giffin, and rest in peace when and if you take a break.
Pat Topfer, 77, Fair Haven, Oct. 26
Pat, also known in the past as Mrs. Cook, was a 52-year resident of Fair Haven and an 50-year Fair Haven Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary member.
She always had a great smile and zest for life. Her daughters, all RFH grads, inherited her beautiful face and smile.
She shared many a crumb cake and cup of coffee with this editor’s mom. Many years past my teens, she saw me at Marine Park in Red Bank. I was pregnant with my son. She gushed with joy and support and insisted upon snapping a picture of my friend and me. She made sure she got it to me. I still have it — that any many good memories of her friendly demeanor and smile.
Last I saw Pat, she was at the Fair Haven centennial celebration, gussied up in festive red, white and blue sparkles for the occasion.
She was more than happy to pose for my photo of her as a longtime, proud Fair Havenite.
Rest in Peace, Pat.
Lois Brett, formerly of Fair Haven, longtime teacher, Oct. 29
Lois Brett was a teacher in the Fair Haven School District for many years.
The daughter of Lester and Esther England, she graduated from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. “She refused to limit her teaching to the classroom, but rather passed on her knowledge, wisdom, and joy of life, learning, love, and knitting to all those she knew however briefly,” according to her obituary.
Mrs. Brett was a friend of my mom’s. She was known for her kind nature and knack for making those Christmas cookies. There was nary a Christmas in our house without some of Lois Brett’s cookies.
Rest in peace, Lois Brett.
Mary Welling Hunnewell, 54, RFH graduate, Class of 1978, Oct. 17
Mary was a gymnast, equestrian, skier, and just all-around nice girl.
She grew up in Fair Haven and graduated from RFH. She had a soft voice, tiny stature and gentle demeanor.
As high school friend Devon Martin put it, “We shared many great times between Gillespie and DeNormandie…on my dad’s little sunfish…having to be rescued! Through middle school and high school. Gymnastics. She was a sweet, kind, generous and beautiful person. I am glad to have been her friend. She will truly be missed on this earth.”
Rest in peace, Mary.
Nina DeSesa, 88, formerly of Fair Haven, Nov. 23
Nina and her husband Michael raised their family, children Blaise and Stephanie, in Fair Haven.
Both were Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School graduates. Stephanie died unexpectedly in 2011 at 50. In the interest of full disclosure, she was this editor’s best friend.
Nina, known lovingly as “the bull” to friends, was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her family and convictions. She was also pretty darn funny and astute.
She loved the opera, her husband and children more than anything in life.
Many saw Nina as quite a stern character, nonetheless fabulous cook, with a mission to play Bridge and MaJong. But, she was much more than that.
She had a great heart. This is my chance to say thank you to a woman who, though many times criticized me mercilessly, was always there for her daughter and me — front and center at both my parents’ funerals.
I have a few things to say to Nina:
Thank you for that artichoke pie, the best baby shower ever, the beautiful blanket you knitted for Cole, all the fabulous dinners and trips into the city to cool out-of-the-way restaurants, the scoldings, that Gilbert O’Sullivan sweater you knitted for Steph (that we fought over).
And, most of all, thank you, Nina, for moving to Fair Haven in 1967 and bringing Steph into my life. I hope you are together again. Oh, and … Step away from the stuffed stork!
Rest in peace, Nina DeSesa.
Silvio Fabbri, 59, owner of Fair Haven’s Umberto’s and friend to many, Nov. 26
Fabbri died very suddenly; and his death saddened a community very accustomed to hearing his anecdotes and knowing that he knew who they were, what was going on in their lives and what they liked to eat.
It could be months that Silvio didn’t see you, yet he’d remember everything about you when you walked in the door.
I got yelled at for not coming around enough, but he remembered my favorite special sub.
Rest in peace, Silvio, and “hanga loose.”
Fair Haven Councilman Jerome Koch, 63, Nov. 30
Jerome Koch died as the result of a tragic Nov. 29 bicycle accident on River Road in Fair Haven.
Koch was known for his sardonic wit and keen sense of humor while sitting on the dais of the Fair Haven Borough Council for nine years.
On Nov. 29, the councilman took what was described by Mayor Ben Lucarelli as his characteristic bike ride around town. The mayor, an avid cyclist, was out for a ride that day as well. He said that when he had passed Koch, he was doing his customary scouting for errant garbage and tidying up.
Not much longer after that, the councilman was hit by a car not too far from his home on River Road and flown to Jersey Shore Medical Center Trauma Unit. He remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit and, sadly, died the next day.
Rest in peace, Councilman Koch.
Mimi Hughes, 83, Rumson resident and 26-year RFH English teacher
Mimi Hughes, who taught English at RFH for 26 years and acted and sang in many a production in the area, died on Dec. 20 surrounded by her loving family.
This is a tough one for this editor. Mrs. Hughes and her family were like family.
In light of our recent editorial tribute to 26-year Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) English teacher and her theatrical family, our Retro Pic of the Day brings us back to 1978 and RFH’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Nearly the entire Hughes family had a featured role in the show. Pictured in this shot are Paul and Nan Hughes rehearsing a scene as Hodel and Perchik.
Oddly enough, they played a madly-in-love couple in the show. Hodel defies tradition asking for a blessing rather than permission to marry Perchik, a radical who was sent to a prison in Siberia while working for the revolution in Kiev.
Paul’s children attend RFH and many have seen Matt on the same stage as his father.
We’re thinking Nan won’t be too fond about revisiting that hairdo. Sorry, Nan.
“As long as there’s one person on Earth who remembers you, it isn’t over …”
It’s a line from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel that actor Mandy Patinkin recently recited on 60 Minutes to describehis faithful nightly ritual. Every single night, he remembers those in his life who have passed by naming them and reflecting on something memorable about them.
I believe, like Patinkin, that there’s an awful lot of truth to the words from the play. And I believe that we all need to pay attention to people who pass through our lives for one reason or another, perhaps altering our paths, and remember. Just remember.
All too often I hear from people, “I don’t remember.” Why not? If you care to remember, you will remember.
I care to remember. And I think that 26-year RFH English teacher, singer and actress, wife, mom and grandmother Mimi Hughes cared to remember. I think that, because when you remember people who passed through your life and passed the smallest to the most monumental elements of life onto you, you pass those things onto other people … and the cycle goes on.
You can see that she did this with her own family as well as with the many whose lives she touched in her own life’s journey.
I suppose I just can’t think of a more appropriate way to remember Mimi Hughes than through such words spoken in a musical, of all things. Words and music are much of what she was all about — what she left to me and many others.
And I suppose that she probably had no idea how she affected such a pivotal point in my life and likely many others’ in a similar way. That’s probably because being kind and generous of heart and talent just came so naturally to her — and with such grace.
But, I remember. She is remembered, from that opening act to curtain call, and then some.
Act I …
I remember that first day at RFH, heading to Mrs. Hughes’ English class. I remember seeing this teacher carrying a load of books down the hall and wondering if that was her — my teacher. You could tell that pile was pretty heavy, but she just seemed to float right through the hall with it.
I actually don’t know why I remember this one thing, but I do — the books were always carried in front of her, not slung on the hip or in a bag. Though, she did have a bag.
I remember thinking what a towering presence she had and that she seemed to exude an extraordinary elegance. Then this lady rounded the corner of the classroom to which I was assigned. Yes, she was my teacher. And I thought she was just so cool.
As she unloaded the books on her desk, I also remember thinking that she was just so beautiful and intelligent looking — piercing, focused, but friendly blue eyes; and thick, dark hair with flecks of grey. Sometimes her readers were perched on the tip of her nose, always with the chain attached. And I’m pretty sure she was wearing a strand of pearls around her neck.
She had the looks of a classic movie actress with that intellectual writer’s bent.
She introduced herself and very neatly scrolled her name on the chalkboard. I can still hear her voice — eloquent, with a delicate, deliberately cultured cadence.
From that point on, Mimi Hughes had become a part of my life.
I always wanted to do well in her class, because she was just so kind and encouraging. I never wanted to disappoint her. That sort of unwaveringly kind encouragement blended with the most succinct, somehow soothing, honesty was her special blend of motivation for success. She never seemed to discourage. I remember that.
I remember even taking my English homework to rehearsals for a, nonetheless, community theater production of Carousel.
I just had to impress her with my diligence, non-judgmental as she was.
Act II …
It wasn’t long after that when I discovered that Mrs. Hughes and her family were involved in theater, too. I was doing shows at The Barn Theater and helping out with ushering and running the concession stand; and there they were.
I remember hearing her soprano voice in many a show. OK, so I don’t remember exactly which ones. But I do remember that voice and seeing her on that strange stage — more like bleachers surrounding a bare spot with lights and scenery, which was fabulous.
By the time I was a junior in high school the Hugheses and I were friends. We had done shows together. We were a theater family of sorts.
And that, in an uncanny way, carried onto the stage.
Mark played my husband, the mayor, in Bye Bye Birdie. Poor guy. All I did was scream and faint and he repeatedly scooped me up, bellowing, in his very old-sounding high school voice, “Edna!”
We were all in Fiddler on the Roof together. Nan, with her superb singing talent, played my daughter. Paul was Perchik. Mark was in the chorus, and, I think, Patrick was probably doing a show at The Barn. But that was a stage that was just right down the street. He was the youngest and not yet in high school then.
I was referred to as “big sis” and I was thrilled with the inclusion in the Hughes family.
And there were many more moments on and off stage.
Mimi Hughes and her family continued to figure quite prominently in what, to me, was a very special, sentimental senior year at RFH.
And I remember. Vividly.
We hung out together, popped over to the Hughes house across the street in between rehearsals, where Mimi always welcomed us. We sang around the piano at cast parties and, yes, thought we had hit some criminal pinnacle as we painted that infamous bridge senior year.
There was even one trek, in particular, that I recall with particular fondness, into New York City. Mrs. Hughes drove and we all sang in the back of their Mercedes station wagon. We were on a jaunt to dinner at Asti, that true showfolk restaurant where opera was sung throughout the meal and diners were sometimes invited to join in.
They grabbed Nan from the table, dressed her in some sort of hooded shroud and she appeared minutes later as part of a makeshift chorus.
Oh, and the ride home … Yes, the singing continued, but so did that game of transposing license initials into some sort of title, name or bizarre sentence.
I remember seeing Mrs. Hughes’ hair and grasp on the wheel from the back seat as she gently reminded us and Mr. Hughes, who was also playing, to keep it all wholesome.
Nan even came to see me at college when she was getting set to graduate from RFH.
The connection with the Hughes family has remained. I remember; and am grateful. Just last year I met up with Paul, whose son was in an RFH show, and Patrick.
There were so many moments. So many that made milestones in my life much more meaningful because of my connection to Mimi Hughes and her family.
I do remember. I remember that by the time I graduated from high school, I had decided that I wanted to not only act, but write as well.
I thought it was a pretty cool combination, and Mrs. Hughes, to me, embodied the idea that I could do both in one way or another and be all that much more enriched to pay forward a love of family, theater and life and write about all of it and more.
Mimi Hughes’ memory, like the memory of so many we should remember, is a lesson.
That lesson is echoed in the song Try to Remember from the Fantasticks.
“Try to remember … and if you remember, then follow …”
Rest in peace, Mrs. Hughes. Thank you for bringing your family into my life and enriching it all the more. Though I think your son Paul remembers my mom more for having “tremendous milk” from the Acme (just as important, as it made my mom laugh for years), you are remembered. Your show isn’t over.
It is with great sadness, yet gratitude for a treasure trove of great memories, that I dedicate our Retro Pic of the Day to the memory of longtime Rumson resident and former RFH English teacher Mimi Hughes, who passed away Saturday morning.
Mrs. Hughes is remembered as an exquisitely gentille, intelligent, strong and compassionate woman. While many knew her from her many years as an RFH teacher, she is also fondly recalled as a singer, actress, friend, wife, mom to RFH grads Mark, Paul, Nan and Patrick and beloved grandmother to her grandchildren.
“She had time to say goodbye to all of us, and she did it with shining grace and composure,” daughter Nan said in a Facebook post. “Her last night was filled with love, Christmas carols and family. Mimi was even singing along with her grandchildren … And as always, she has been a role model, showing us the best way to do this.”
There will be a memorial gathering 10 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by an 11 a.m. Mass at Nativity Church, Fair Haven.
With our Retro Pic of the Day, we ask that you take a moment to remember Mimi Hughes.
Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect will be publishing an opinion piece on Monday in honor of Mrs. Hughes.