Dr. Hughes

Celebrating His Memory

Eric Lester Hughes


September 1, 1923 — March 14, 2016

Washington Gymnastics Remembers Dr. Hughes

My first introduction to Dr. Hughes happened innocently enough as I attended a Saturday morning gym class at the UW when I was a junior high. My friend and I had taken a bus from Mercer Island and were enrolled in one of his beginning classes. Dr. Hughes was teaching one of the rotations on floor. To our group, he taught us log rolls – a twisting and rolling drill where three boys are trying to avoid each other jumping and rolling sideways. It was a relatively easy and fun exercise that he enjoyed teaching to us. Of course, little did I know who this elderly man was and how important he was to Washington Gymnastics – or how much he would influence my life.

Later, as an adult I got to know Dr. Hughes and his deep commitment to gymnastics, physical health and the University of Washington. It was then that I came to feel fortunate, honored, and even lucky to know him and have him so involved in the growth and direction of the men’s team.

As you read and see the pictures throughout the following tribute to him, please relate to us your stories of Dr. Hughes on the comment section. Through these memories, his life will have even greater meaning to the present and future gymnasts and fans of Washington gymnastics!

– Coach Mark Russo

We created our own collection of memories of Dr. Hughes and we hope you remember him with as much fondness and gratitude as we do.

If you’d like to share a memory of your own, please comment.

3 thoughts on “Dr. Hughes

  1. My memories of Eric, Dr Hughes, go back so far they should be getting a little dim, but they are like yesterday. The first encounter was at a Husky’s basketball game when he and his “boys” put on a halftime show. I can see Bill Crow and Jimmy David on the trampoline, Charlie Denny on the flying rings and Jim Lang on something else along with a few others. Next was when he helped set up the high school gymnastics programs at Shoreline, Highline and Renton and that got me started with what was my passion for years to come. He judged our meets and invited us to the UofW gym to visit his Saturday classes and the university meets which inspired me to work harder. I was on the freshman team starting the winter of 1960 and the varsity team the following year before I joined the Peace Corps and missed the next two years. My best memories of those years are coach Hughes’ ability to motivate all of us in his gentle low pressure way and manage to bring out the best in each of us. Road trips were always fun because we had so much time together to visit and sometimes he had arranged a surprise stop, like the time we overnighted at the Seventh Day Adventist school in Angwin, California on our way to the Pac Ten meet at Stanford in 1961. I don’t think any of us had ever had a vegetarian meal and it was a new experience seeing how the students lived. In exchange for feeding us and families putting us up for the night we put on a performance for the school that they loved.

    After I graduated I saw Eric from time to time at meets and Awards Banquets, but the most memorable encounter was about twenty years ago when we met by chance when he was camping at the state park on the Columbia at Vantage and canoeing. I couldn’t believe how fit and trim he was! And at 75 years old!! Yikes, that’s my age. Guess I better start canoeing. Last year at the Awards Banquet I had a wonderful visit with Eric and loved reminiscing about the past and marveling at how far men’s gymnastics had come in the 50 plus years since my competitive days: tricks we couldn’t even have imagined.

    Eric touched a great many lives and we will all miss him, but know he made a difference.

  2. A few years before he died, Coach emailed me and said that two of his gymnasts had taken him to a bar to watch The Apple Cup. “Terry, that was only the second time in my life I was in bar.”

    About a month after the Vietnam War ended, Coach called me to chat about recruiting Colorado gymnasts for UW. I told him I remembered he was in the Canadian Air Force during World War II. He said, “I was very lucky. Even though I was a trained pilot, I stayed in Canada at different airfields, sometimes on the coast watching for Japanese submarines. I didn’t get killed and I didn’t have to kill any one, I was very lucky.”

    In the late 70s, Coach had a layover at the old Denver Stapleton Airport and he called me. I picked him up and took him to my parents’ house. (He had visited my folks twice before during Denver layovers.) We sat in their tiny kitchen and talked over lemonade. He told us the story of the first weight room at the University of Washington. At the end of the UW Homecoming game in 1950, Washington was on the California two-yard line, first and ten. UW had two All Americans, Don Heinrich and Hugh McIlhenny, but they couldn’t get the ball over the goal line.

    After the game, the coaches decided that the football players needed to be stronger. Eric Hughes, then a teaching assistant, asked for and received permission to build a weight room. He commandeered an old handball court and some weights, then had other weights manufactured in the University machine shop. Soon after, the weight room received one of the first Universal machines, build by Harold Zinkin, a Venice Beach character in the same generation of Muscle Beach folk such as Glenn Sundby and Steve Reeves. Coach said he heard stories later about how he filled coffee cans with concrete and placed them on iron pipes to make barbells, but he laughed and said it wasn’t true but “…it makes a great story.”

  3. In 1955, I was finally old enough to be enrolled in a program that directed my energies toward tumbling on horsehair mats and bouncing on a trampoline. At the time, HecEd Pavilion was only a couple of miles away from my house in Montlake. That’s when I first met Dr. Eric Hughes and was quite proud when I earned a UW gymnastic T-shirt the first year and my UW Gymnastic shorts the following year. I felt a great deal of pride when Dr. Hughes awarded me these items for an activity that I was able to excel in. As years went on, I found myself crossing paths with Dr. Hughes, both in and outside the gym.
    During my junior and senior high school years, I participated in AAU meets and was able to continually watch the college gymnasts from Hughes’s program, whether it be at the YMCA, HecEd pavilion or age-level meets around the state and British Columbia. During these outings, there was always a special show given by many of his gymnasts, and sometimes Eric was involved. Charlie Denny amazed us on the flying rings, Bill Crow, Brian Sternberg, Jim David and Eric Hughes would sometimes do a special performance on the trampoline or rings dressed as clowns (or at least acting like one). I’ll never forget how Eric looked with his black stretched-out derby hat and one blackened tooth—he had a great smile. Obviously, I began to admire these guys and saw the fun in competing.
    Those of us in the young-age groups felt a special attachment to those in Hughes’s program because they were our teachers, who we emulated. They were our future. To be able to talk with Dr. Hughes and his gymnasts made us feel extraordinary, unique, distinctive, and special. Either inadvertently, or knowingly, Hughes made us feel that being a gymnast was a special family unto itself. These feelings grew, especially during the Camp Waskowitz years. That’s when we really had the time to get to know one another better.
    First as a camper, then a counselor and finally as a staff member, I got to know Eric and his entourage better while at Camp Waskowitz. Many had talents beyond being gymnasts such as singing, doing skits, etc. A great deal of credit goes to Eric for allowing us to work together and learn from one another. Fun and family grew.
    Although I competed for a different college, we stayed connected through those times and beyond. During our competitions, he would make a point of asking how I was doing or congratulate me on my performance. It amazed me that he allowed me to practice in the gym after I got out of the army. That’s when he asked me if I’d like to be his assistant coach. That was an honor I still cherish to this day. While judging and coaching at the high school level we stayed connected. Even after the sport was dropped from high school competition, I would see him at some 10k runs. That’s when I realized how driven he was—running, biking, canoeing. This guy just wouldn’t quit.
    So, why did I join the Washington Men’s Gymnastic Foundation? It went beyond being the only show in town, or wanting to pay back for a sport that which helped shape me, it was also for Eric.
    God bless you Dr. Eric Hughes, you’ll always be remembered for your dedication and friendship, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.
    -Mace Brady

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