Mrs. Thomas P. Hughes (Virginie) died in Payson at age 97 Sunday night after suffering a stroke several days before. There was always something purposeful and unique about Virginie, not unlike the strange spelling of her given name which she changed while she was in high school. She had been a resident of Arizona since moving here from New York in the mid-1930s with her parents Henry and Grace, and her brother, Henry, who at age 91 still lives in Phoenix. Virginie had a privileged life as a child in Scarsdale, N.Y., but she felt all of that had changed when she moved to Arizona at age 14 for her father’s health.
The move became fortuitous when, at age 21, she married Tom Hughes, part of a longtime ranching family in Arizona since the early 1900s, and started the next chapter of her amazing life.
Virginie was in nurse’s training when her husband went overseas to fight in World War II, and she gave birth to her first child, Tom, Jr. in 1944. When Tom returned from the war with two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars, they settled at his father’s ranch in Sunflower, living in primitive conditions, best remembered by her then young children in an incident that had her, after dark one night, looking for a flashlight so that Tom could take care of a rattlesnake that was threatening outside the house. Virginie cooked for the men on roundup and hand-washed her children’s diapers. By the time their oldest child reached age 6, they built a home in Phoenix so that the children could go to St. Francis Elementary School, then Brophy and Xavier High Schools.
In 1953, Tom and Virginie acquired their own ranch 15 miles south of Payson, which meant that during each school year while Tom was working the ranch, for six days a week Virginie managed the home and growing children in Phoenix. During the summers, Virginie moved the household to the ranch so the family could work and be together.
Virginie lost Tom, her husband of more than 60 years, in 2005, and her eldest daughter, Barbara Ann, in 1996, but is survived by Tom, Jr. and his wife Doris; Michael and his wife Judy; Tim and his wife Kathleen; Mary and her husband Greg; Patricia; and Susie and her husband Chris. She also enjoyed the gift of eight grandchildren: Bill Hughes, Laura Hughes, Terri Hughes, Lenny Ambelang, Sarah Hawley, Ryan Hughes (dec), Chris Hughes, Matt Treinen and Kelly Hughes; as well as four great-grandchildren: Peter and Tommy Ambelang and Peyton and Cannon Hawley.
In addition to her hard work managing her household of seven children, Virginie will always be remembered for her fundamental optimism, in part a gift from her father, and which was always focused on what her husband and her children could do tomorrow to better their lives and the community around them. Virginie took great pride in the fact that each of her seven children earned college degrees and have led lives of productive service to their communities.
During her life Virginie supported many Catholic charities, including Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters), an orphanage based in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she served on the Board of Directors for a number of years.
As Virginie reached her 70s she began to travel, first with her husband, and later her daughters, visit-ing the Great Wall of China, navigating the Nile River in Egypt, and cruising many of Europe’s great rivers.
Virginie is loved and will be missed, and those who knew her will remember that above all else: She came and she did her duty, and she lived for her children.
A rosary will be said for Virginie at 10:15 a.m., Monday, April 22 at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Payson, followed by a funeral mass at 11 a.m., followed by a reception in the St. Philip’s parish hall.
Interment will be at 10 a.m., Tuesday, April 23 in Phoenix at St. Francis Cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos at https://www.nphusa.org.