A Life Lived: Jack Hughes danced to life’s melodies

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

William W. Purkey is credited with saying: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

And that’s just what Jack Hughes did. Even at his funeral there was a recording played of some “boogie woogie” music by the Glen Miller Band, a favorite of the 91-year-old man, who had played hard, worked hard, and loved to the end.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Jack’s minister, Michael Klaus of Elizabethton’s First Christian Church, shared that Jack when a young man ready to set sail for World War II duty in Europe, heard the Glen Miller Band playing live on the docks of New York City, and decided to do some dancing. “Jack knew it might be a while until he could dance with a girl again so while the band was playing ‘In the Mood’ he asked one girl and then another, then another to dance there on the dock in New York City,” the minister shared.

“Eventually he would come home from the war, settle down and just dance with one woman, an Elizabethton girl named Janie Fletcher, who he was married to for 51 years,” said the minister.

And you guessed it. Jack met Janie dancing at a place called the “Chocolate Bar.”

Janie grew up in Elizabethton, the daughter of Mark Fletcher, who was Elizabethton’s fire chief in the 1940s. She grew up in First Christian Church, thus, it became Jack’s church, too, even though they made their home in Johnson City.

Jack grew up on Walnut Street in Johnson City near the old Burlington factory in the “Y section.”

“He lived his entire life within a three or four-block radius of the Y section,” said his son, John.

“Dad worked at both Interstate Foundry and Johnson City Foundry, and then worked for White’s Food for 13 years. When he worked at Interstate Foundry, he walked the railroad tracks from his house to the factory, and would walk back in the evening. He was the last employee at the Johnson City Foundry, which closed in the late 1980s.

“Dad was a hard worker, but he also liked to ‘piddle.’ He was always busy. He enjoyed yard work and growing flowers. Many of the things he did, such as the flower gardens, were for my mother. He always wanted to make her happy,” said John.

Janie preceded Jack in death by 13 years. “The day my mother was buried, he and I were sitting in the car in the driveway of his house, when he looked at me and said, ‘I lost my right arm today.’ Even though he made a life without her, it was just never the same for him,” John shared.

Jack served in Germany during World War II with the 94th Infantry. Jack’s minister shared that when Gen. Patton’s Third Army pushed toward Berlin, Jack was there and next to one of his East Tennessee buddies. “They were crawling on the ground in the advance party and his buddy detonated a land mine with his chest. Jack witnessed that. We don’t have men like this anymore. These are the men who literally saved the world and kept us as Americans all from speaking German or Japanese,” said the minister.

“Dad enjoyed being with people. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed making people laugh. He was a very humble man, who enjoyed his church. At one time he was active in the Elizabethton American Legion and was involved with the Boy Scouts,” said John.

Some of the things John especially remembers about his dad was his always opening the car door for Janie, listening to Big Band records with his grandson, Matthew, and always mowing in a perfectly straight line. “Dad never cursed and he never drank,” said John.

“He always wanted to help the down and out. At Christmas time, he delivered gifts to underprivileged families,” said John.

Jack died August 15 in his sleep at his Johnson City home. In addition to his wife, he was preceded in death by his oldest son, Jack H. Hughes. He had two grandsons, Matthew and Jack R. Hughes.

Perhaps his minister summed it up best when he concluded Jack’s funeral with the thought “Jack would be called part of the greatest generation, a man you could write about – ‘Oh a thousand years from now that they could read about your servant of choice in whom you found favor, a man who heard your voice.’”

Jack now? No doubt, he’s once again dancing with Janie.