Patricia D. Hughes
As Maryland's first lady, she supported women's issues and the arts, and led a restoration of Government House

By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

January 22, 2010

Patricia D. Hughes, who as Maryland's first lady actively supported women's causes, the arts and educational initiatives, was a key adviser to her husband, Gov. Harry Hughes, and led the way in an accurate historical restoration of Government House, died early Wednesday at her Denton home of Parkinson's disease.

Mrs. Hughes was 79.

"She was a wonderfully courageous lady who in recent years battled her health challenges with her husband by her side," Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday.

"She was a very strong woman who epitomized class and who had a deep appreciation for both art and architecture. She brought great dignity as Maryland's first lady and was the kind of first lady that people like to see."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski recalled yesterday that "Pat was a loyal and faithful partner in the governor's public life and a leader in the community. She will be missed."

Mrs. Hughes, who had been a fixture on the Maryland political scene for more than 50 years, was born Patricia Donoho, in Milford, Del. The daughter of educators, she was raised in Seaford, Del., and Crisfield.

After graduating in 1947 from the National Cathedral School in Washington, Mrs. Hughes studied languages while at Bryn Mawr College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1951. She studied at the Sorbonne in 1949 as an exchange student.

She later studied French language and literature at the University of Delaware, where she earned a master's degree in 1969.

In his 2006 autobiography, "My Unexpected Journey," Governor Hughes recalled meeting a striking young woman in the living room of his Denton boyhood home, where she was being tutored in French by his mother. That young woman would become his wife.

"I liked her, but she went off to the National Cathedral School in Washington that fall and I didn't really see her much until the fall of 1948, when she invited me up for a dance at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, where she had entered as a freshman," Governor Hughes wrote. "That was our first date. By the summer of 1949, we were dating regularly."

He credited her with encouraging him to consider a career in law and attend law school. They married in 1951.

While her husband completed his final year of law school at George Washington University, Mrs. Hughes worked for Armed Forces Security, a government agency that was a forerunner of the National Security Agency.

From 1952 to 1953, Mrs. Hughes taught elementary school in Caroline County public schools, and during the late 1960s, was a teacher at Chesapeake Community College and the Country School in Easton.

Mrs. Hughes participated in her husband's political campaigns, beginning with his election to the House of Delegates in 1954, state Senate in 1958, his losing race in 1964 for Congress and the gubernatorial race that culminated with his election as governor in 1978. Governor Hughes served two terms.

"I first got to know the then-Senator Harry Hughes back in 1963. He was a wonderful and thoroughly decent person, as was his wife, Pat," retired state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Thursday.

"When Harry ran for governor in 1978, Pat organized ZIP Trips, which meant we'd take buses to different ZIP code areas and campaign. They were very effective," Mr. Curran said.

"She had a lot to do with the organization of the campaign and played a splendid role. Pat was very much a part of the Hughes administration before there even was a Hughes administration," he said.

"She was a charming person to have dinner or simply talk with. She knew how politics worked in the state, and she did it very well," Mr. Curran said. "Pat was a thoughtful, warm and caring person, and a very important asset to Harry."

Joseph M. Coale III managed Governor Hughes' two gubernatorial campaigns and later served as a close staff adviser.

"Pat was a very definitive person. She was very exacting, and she could always get to the bottom line very quickly. She was, in many ways, a perfectionist," Mr. Coale said.

"She had very high standards, and while [she and her husband] didn't always agree on issues, he valued her counsel over the years," he said.

Mrs. Hughes garnered national attention when she undertook a $1.5 million restoration during the early 1980s of seven ground-floor rooms of Government House, the official 54-room Annapolis residence of the governor and his family.

Mrs. Hughes secured the aid of the Maryland Historical Society and the Friends of Government House, which raised the necessary funds; no government funds were used in the restoration.

After moving in, Mrs. Hughes received news media attention for her candid description of the governor's residence as a "bastard house," because it originally had been built as a Second Empire-style mansion and then remodeled into a Georgian Revival-style country home in 1936.

Mrs. Hughes didn't mince words when it came to describing the mansion as being "shabby."

"Without being stuffy about it," she said in a 1986 interview with Architectural Digest, "I wanted the house to be something people would take pride in."

In conjunction with Stiles T. Colwill, then chief curator of the Maryland Historical Society, and Gregory R. Weidman, who was associate curator, Mrs. Hughes set out to have the rooms refurbished with paintings, carpets and furnishings ranging from the Federalist period to the 20th century.

"Pat Hughes was one of the most gracious ladies I've ever had the pleasure of working with," said Mr. Colwill, now a private interior decorator and chairman of the board of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"She was unpretentious and had her own laid-back style, and had a great idea for displaying the history of Maryland in Government House," he said.

"She worked very hard in moving the project forward, and she thought she was doing something great for the citizens of the state and it was completed during Harry's term," he said.

"The house used to be called The Mansion, and Pat changed its name to Government House, which was more reflective of being the people's house," Mr. Coale said. "She was very firm that it reflect a more Jeffersonian presentation, and won many, many accolades for the restoration."

"There are few pleasures as sweet as that of moving into a house that needs no work, and whoever succeeds Harry Hughes as governor of Maryland this January should at least include a paragraph of thanks to Patricia Hughes in his inaugural speech," said the Architectural Digest profile.

Mrs. Hughes' changes proved to be short-lived. During the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Hilda Mae Snoops, his companion and official hostess, who found the museum-quality rooms cold and unfriendly, redecorated them.

Mrs. Hughes also focused on women's issues and the arts during her husband's two terms as governor.

She traveled across the state while working closely with the Maryland Commission for Women to support battered-spouse programs, shelters for homeless women, career counseling centers for displaced homemakers, centers for those suffering from substance abuse and alternative schools for children who have been on drugs.

"I remember her visiting every battered-spouse program center in the different counties across the state. She cared and was committed to women's issues," said Connie R. Beims, former deputy chief of staff for Governor Hughes.

Ms. Beims recalled Mrs. Hughes' address before a statewide convention of the Hispanic Women's Conference.

"It was about knowing your rights, and she did the entire address in Spanish," she said.

Mrs. Hughes, who enjoyed attending the theater, served on the board of Center Stage, Maryland's state theater, and supported the work of the Maryland State Arts Council.

Ms. Beims also credited Mrs. Hughes with keeping her husband healthy and fit.

"She was a good taskmaster, and she watched out for the governor. If she thought we were putting too much pressure on him, she'd call up and say, 'Harry, time to come home,' " Ms. Beims said, laughing.

For the past 20 years, Mrs. Hughes and her husband had lived in a home on Pealiquor Road in Denton.

Even though Mrs. Hughes had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 17 years ago, she kept busy and enjoyed traveling until a few years ago.

"She was very involved in her grandson's life and got to Dad's 80th birthday party. She really enjoyed that. She pushed hard to keep going," said a daughter, Elizabeth Roe "Beth" Hughes, a lawyer who lives in Alexandria, Va. "My mother was a wonderfully bright, elegant and gifted person."

Governor Hughes said, "Whatever success I had in life was certainly attributable to Pat."

Mrs. Hughes was a communicant of Christ Episcopal Church, 105 Gay St., Denton, where services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Hughes is survived by another daughter, Ann Donoho Hughes of Denton; a grandson; and two great-grandchildren.

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