Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 17, 2003
Author Monica Hughes dies at 77
St. Thomas More's descendant wove joy, peace into life
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Edmonton's internationally renowned and award-winning author of juvenile science fiction, Monica Hughes - a descendant of St. Thomas More - died at the age of 77 after suffering a stroke, March 7.
Hughes, who was best known for the Isis Trilogy, Hunter in the Dark, and her latest The Maze, won governor general awards as well as the prestigious Phoenix Award for her work.
Born in Liverpool, England in 1925, Hughes was a zealous Catholic, taking after her forefather, the Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More.
She was deeply involved in her parish of St. Andrew as a lector, Catholic Women's League member and Development and Peace committee member.
Although she was passionate about science fiction, faith had always influenced her writing.
In an interview with the WCR last year, she described writing and faith as "one of those things that's almost impossible to separate - like Siamese twins."
Writing and faith
"It's my life, my faith, my imagination and what I do as a writer. They are all tied in together and hard to separate."
Despite her busy schedule of writing books and involvement in various social justice groups and circle of writers, she prepared the Development and Peace bulletin which her parish distributes to people during Lent.
This year, she asked the agency to have the materials earlier so she could prepare them before she went for a hip replacement.
Glen Hughes, her husband, told the WCR, "She's had a serious hip condition for some time and it was getting worse and worse. It came to a point that it was very difficult for her to get proper rest."
"Monica was trying to get to the bathroom and she couldn't get there. That's when we called in the ambulance. When the ambulance came, they found out that she had had a stroke.
"Her presence in our house is everywhere . . . in everything. She just made a tapestry for the Church," said Glen.
Stairway to heaven
Her final creation depicted a stair case leading to a great light.
"As far as we are concerned that's where she is now."
Looking back over his beloved wife's life, Glen said, "She was so good in what she did. She always encouraged other people to try their very best in whatever they are doing but especially in writing of course."
Betty Farrell, a Development and Peace volunteer, had a chance to work with Monica.
"She was a very joyful, quiet person and not forceful . . . could always enter into a conversation with openness . . . very loving of her own family and everyone," Farrel said.
"Monica was a woman of very deep faith. There is no question about that.
Her death was sudden and unexpected, although Hughes was tired lately and in a lot of pain.
Born in Liverpool, England, in 1925, Hughes also lived in Egypt and Scotland.
A WREN in the navy during the Second World War, she went on to work in Zimbabwe for two years and moved to Canada in 1952, working at the National Research Council.
"I realized that wall hangings lose their popularity easily, but people will keep on reading."
- Monica Hughes
Originally, she planned to move to Australia but she met Glen Hughes, who became her husband. They had four children.
In 1964, she moved to Edmonton because of her husband's job with the government.
Moving to the Prairies was difficult for her in the beginning. She missed the colours of Ontario. But she said, "I'm going to make myself like it."
With that conviction, she explored painting, embroidery and weaving while she continued writing. She had not published a book then.
At one point, Hughes couldn't make up her mind whether she was going to be full-time writer or a full-time weaver.
"But then I decided words were more important to me, as I realized that wall hangings lose their popularity easily, but people will keep on reading," Hughes said in a WCR interview.
She began her career in juvenile science fiction in 1971 after her last child began attending school.
While enrolled in a correspondence course on writing from the University of Chicago, she decided to write four hours a day for a full year. She sat at the kitchen table with black Bic pen and loose-leaf paper, painfully typing it all later.
A true friend
Therese McElgunn, a long time neighbour and friend, did not know she was living close to a writing legend until the early '80s. "We started as acquaintances and ended very dear friends."
When McElgunn couldn't drive anymore, the Hughes gave her rides to Church.
"She had a warm personality," said McElgunn."I don't have a university degree or something like that, but she treated me as an equal. In spite of her celebrity status, I know her as a person, as a woman, as a mother and a friend."