Tribute to Brad Hughes 5.21.08
Those who have been reading for some time will be unsurprised at my motto: Self-indulgence never. Self-promotion always.
I'm making an exception this week. Last night, my brother Brad Hughes passed away at the age of 53. On Friday (his sixteenth wedding anniversary), with much of his family around his hospital bed, he said that he was ready to go that night. He said that he wasn't giving up, but he just couldn't fight to stay alive because his body wasn't strong enough. He said that he wanted to go and see Jesus. We sat around and talked to him about his life for a while, and said our goodbyes. He had a long weekend of waiting after that, so leaving took him a few more days than he wanted. But like everything else Brad decided on in life, he achieved this thing too.
Like Neo in The Matrix, Brad dodged a few bullets in the last couple of years. Two years ago, he weathered brutal rounds of chemo to beat lymphoma. Last year, a freak skiing accident nearly left him paralyzed from the neck down. (The steroids that are used in conjunction with chemo treatments had made his bones extremely brittle.) Several weeks ago, the lymphoma came back with a vengeance. Being a typically stubborn Hughes, Brad fought with everything he had. After (what they call) salvage chemo almost did him in, the doctors were unable to give him any further treatment.
Brad was a loving husband and doting father, but more than just writing a straight obit, I wanted to tell a story about somebody who has been very important to the whole city of Winnipeg. Brad started Fanfare Magazine Group in 1984 because he wanted to promote Winnipeg as a hip and urban place. (Hip and urban were very different in 1984, and involved toucans, corvettes and mullets.) Every time he travelled somewhere, he said, Hey we can do that in Winnipeg. Over the years, Brad started various seminal magazines like Uptown, WHERE Winnipeg and Ciao!. Brad helped to found Tourism Winnipeg. He came up with the maligned (by me) ad campaign, 100 Great Reasons To Love Winnipeg. He helped to found Tourism Winnipeg, and was the first chair of CentrePlan (which became CentreVenture). He also came up with numerous other uncredited ideas, and a bunch of things that no one remembers (Get Pumped on Culture, anyone?). But he never really cared about being in the spotlight (unlike me). He always just wanted to make Winnipeg a better place. And the way that he knew how was through marketing. Later on, he turned to his last great love, food. In the last several years, he helped restaurants to create and promote Manitoba Regional Cuisine menus, where there had been no such thing. He promoted cuisine tourism. In the midst of crippling pain, he organized and hosted the 2006 Cuisine Canada national conference in Winnipeg, and created the Manitoba Food and Wine Show to go along with it.
In fact, you could say that Aqua Books and EAT! bistro would never have been born if not for Brad Hughes. A failed actor returning from BC in 1992 needed a job, and Brad obliged. Seven years later, I had learned enough about running a business to take a stab at launching my own shingle. (I won't blame my failures on him. All mistakes are on my head.) Since it was a long time before I made enough money to quit working for Brad 100%, the lessons continued through 2007. Dealing with customers honestly and fairly, creating a product that people need, and then marketing the hell out of it, were all covered. Brad never got to eat at EAT!, but every time I went to the hospital, he wanted to know details. How busy were you at lunch today? What's happening with the ceiling? You know, you should do mini quiches.
Unfortunately, even the greatest people are eventually forgotten. (Unless you get a bridge named after you. Who's Slaw Rebchuk?) But life isn't really about posterity, is it? At the end, Brad fought off claims that he was a hero. He said that all he had done was try to weather the impossible situation he found himself in with as much grace and humanity as possible. (I told him that that's what a hero is.) And he really nailed it. Life is about doing the best you can in each moment. I've written this, in the hope that, if only for the few moments that you've taken to read this, you'll see that Brad Hughes made a difference. And for my part, I promise to try and match his love of Winnipeg.
So there it is. My hope is that I will return to being funny very soon. Sad is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. So don't cry for me, Argentina. I really am fine. And if you want to know what you can do for me, don't send me cards, flowers or fruit. Just live every moment like you mean it.
And interestingly.......Last week, Uptown (Brad's little weekly that he started printed its annual Readers' Choice Awards results. Aqua Books is again Winnipeg's #2 Used Bookstore (category 51), and this year is Winnipeg's third-fave Local Bookstore (#52). But check out who placed in #88. Somehow, yours truly got to be Winnipeg's number 3 Best Local Philanthropist, just behind the Aspers and the Richardsons. (Maybe the voters thought it said Philatelist.) I told Brad, and he thought this was good. Personally, I think that it's the funniest thing ever, and it's given me a smile in a very tiring week. So thanks to whoever voted for me. I think I got way more bang for my buck than the Asperdsons.
NOTE: CBC's Terry McLeod knew Brad when they both lived in Thunder Bay. The audio for our interview about Brad's life is here: Click CBC for May 22/08
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