Thurston Corder Hughes

Hughes—Thurston Corder Hughes, 87, on November 20, 2016. Thurston was born in 1928 in Germany under a different name, which he described later as something nationalistic. He participated in the Hitler Youth Program and was conscripted late in the war to be an anti-aircraft gunner while still underage. His reluctance to join the SS led to their accusing him of cowardice, to which he answered that history would show who the real cowards were. For this insubordination, he was immediately sent to the front lines and soon captured by the Russians. On the way to prison camp in Siberia, he fell ill, and a Russian nurse took pity on him because he reminded her of her son and helped him escape to Europe, where he met Quakers, including Corder Catchpool and William Hughes, who saved his life. Estranged from his family, he came to the United States in the mid-1950s, taking the name Thurston Corder Hughes and joining Brooklyn (N.Y.) Meeting.

He worked in the financial industry, attended New York University at night, and eventually managed the Foreign Currency Exchange Desk for several banks, including those that are now HSBC and ABN AMRO. He attributed his financial success to his scrupulousness, being unafraid to write letters to CEOs that he felt were dishonest, and taking people to task for oversights. He left the banking world to become a mailman near the home he bought in Basking Ridge, N.J. There he joined Chatham-Summit Meeting in Chatham Township, N.J., and then Rahway-Plainfield Meeting in North Plainfield, N.J. He arrived early at meeting, picking up the trash on the property and settling into worship before others arrived. Having started worship early, he usually left early, slipping away before anyone could ask him about his week. When Friends thanked him for his work on the property, he downplayed it, saying that all must work for the common good. His vocal ministry was sparse but well-seasoned.

He liked traveling and rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles until he was 80. He belonged to an unofficial Quaker motorcycle group that included British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion. He swam before breakfast, after which he would spend time at the library. Generous with his time and money, he discerned distress and asked people if they needed help, providing needed loans or gifts. He donated regularly to causes he believed in, but anonymously, as he believed philanthropy should not require anything in return. He stopped giving to several institutions when they attempted to honor him. He set up scholarships at two Quaker colleges for Icelanders, Costa Ricans, and Native Hawaiians, but he barred the colleges from acknowledging his gifts.

He made friends wherever he went—his swimming group; his motorcycle mechanic; people at the typewriter repair shop (he went through six ribbons a week); at work; at the library; and in the immigrant German Quaker community, maintaining these friendships over the years through witty and faithful letters through which he shared his political insights and good humor. He also wrote to presidents, senators, and other public figures, sharing his sense of fairness and justice. In 2016, he wrote President Obama urging him to eliminate the tax deduction for mortgage interest. He did not like to talk on the telephone and hung up if he did not recognize the caller’s voice.

After an automobile accident on September 9, 2016, medical issues arose that led to a heart attack and his death. Friends gratefully acknowledge an adventurous and challenging life lived with integrity and style.


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