SCOUTING AROUND: Hughes knows when it's time to move on
One morning, Bill Hughes was shaving when it hit him – it was time to retire. He had been principal of Murphy Elementary School for 32 years, and he realized he had been doing things the way he had always done things. It was not fair to the children, teachers and parents.
Hughes said he was proven to have made a wise choice when Wanda Arrowood, his assistant principal, who took over as principal and led the school to new heights.
At the end of this year, Hughes once again will be retiring, this time from the position as mayor of Murphy. And again, he’s doing it for the betterment of the community.
“I know when it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” he said. “The town deserves somebody younger. It’s time for new blood.”
Hughes said to be an effective mayor, a person needs to stay motivated as well as be creative, determined, innovative and steadfast.
“That’s where a young mind surpasses an old mind,” he said.
That does not mean Hughes already is taking it easy. He has a few goals he’d like to accomplish, including bringing the railroad back to town, seeing every building downtown filled with a business and – what he called the one big project – replacing the water and sewer lines on Regal Street.
Hughes was elected mayor in 1997, not long after he retired from public education. He already had been serving on the city council for a decade, first joining when the council selected him to fill a vacancy. He will continue to serve until the Tuesday, Nov. 7, election.
He decided to become mayor to give back to the community. Hughes has never even accepted the full salary for the job, according to his wife, Barbara.
“I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else,” Hughes said. “Serving as mayor has been a real pleasure and delight.”
He said when some people are elected, they become nothing but an elected official. On the other the hand, some chose to be a public servant. Hughes has an open door policy and would help anyone if he could – and if he couldn’t, he would explain what policy or other roadblock prevented him from doing so. Hughes is a familiar face downtown, making it part of his job to check in often with business owners.
“I try to keep in close touch with all the main street merchants,” he said. “If there’s a problem, you find out about it before it becomes very big.”
When representing Murphy to the state, Hughes did his best to make the town look big to get what was needed. He became so well-known for his work that Gov. Beverly Purdue honored him with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in 2012 for his “outstanding service to western North Carolina.”
“That’s what she said, but that’s debatable upon whom you speak,” Hughes said. “It came as quite a surprise.”
The award is the highest honor that can be given to a citizen of the state. Other recipients include Maya Angelou, Billy Graham and Richard Petty.
Mrs. Hughes said they have made lifelong friends with people all over the state through his active participation as mayor. However, she was most proud of his abilities to lead in both good and bad times. She added that when the town became “a circus” after the capture of Eric Rudolph, the mayor was a good representative of the entire area on national television.
Mrs. Hughes has been a fine representative in her own way simply doing things she enjoys and getting involved in several organizations. She thinks people see her work as a commitment from both her and her husband to help Murphy, and his position has helped her get more things done for the community.
“That’s helped the town, and if it helps the town it helps me,” he said.
One time he didn’t agree with her was when she presented the idea for the River Walk to the council as part of her work with the Heritage Partners. Mrs. Hughes recalled he told her when they got home that she had lost her mind. But as he received praise for the project, he saw what a good idea it was.
While he is proud of many things he accomplished as mayor, from replacing sewer lines to not raising taxes, he thinks his one of his greatest accomplishments in life was having a relationship with and finding a partner in Barbara.
While she plans to continue her work in the community, one position she would like to find a replacement for is organizer of the annual Murphy Christmas Parade to provide more space between her and whoever is the next mayor. She said she would help whoever decides to take her place.
Hughes said he couldn’t have done everything he’s accomplished as mayor without the teamwork of city council members. He also praised the work of the City Manager Anna Payne.
“I’ve had a good life. I’ve certainly been blessed and so proud to be chosen by the people of Murphy, North Carolina, to be mayor,” he said. “One of my biggest honors is the people of the community having the faith to elect me mayor.”
As of now, Hughes has no plans for what he will do once he retires.
“You don’t make long-term plans when you’re 80,” the mayor said with his familiar smile.
Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, email@example.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.