By Mary Gail Hare and Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
6:45 PM EDT, June 10, 2012
The Cardinal Gibbons High School class of 1972 thought about canceling its 40th reunion after learning of the sudden loss of the man who organized the event. Instead, they picked up where Stephen J. Hughes left off and turned the gathering Sunday into a tribute to the man who touched so many lives.
On June 4, Hughes, 57, a prominent Towson attorney and longtime Catonsville resident, died in a car crash in Oxford, England, that also killed his two sons-in-law, Gregory Brooks, 39, a graphic designer from Catonsville, and Andrew Pain, 31, of London. His daughters, Angela H. Brooks and Sarah Hughes Pain, were both injured and are recovering in England. The crash occurred about 10 p.m. when Pain, the driver, swerved on a wet road to avoid an animal, according to police in England.
The family was overseas to celebrate Sarah Hughes Pain's March wedding at the Engineers Club in Baltimore with Andrew Pain's family and friends who couldn't travel to Baltimore for the ceremony.
Hughes had scheduled his return for Saturday so he could attend the Gibbons reunion, which was to have been a casual cookout at Patapsco State Park.
"Steve set this up, and it became imperative for us to go on with it," said Dave Gardiner of Downingtown, Pa. "Jim Richardson and I just picked up the gauntlet."
The last time the three had been together was at a funeral about a month ago for another classmate, Tim Newell, who also worked on the reunion plans.
"What is really sad is that the two people most interested in pulling us all together are not here," Richardson said.
Paul DiCrispino of Catonsville passed the bright red 1972 Crusader yearbook around the gathering.
"It would have been a waste if we didn't get together and talk about Steve, who was always the class leader," he said.
The alumni leafed through the pages, lingering on their favorite photos.
"I came for every reason in this book," Stan Rae of Westminster said. "I came for all we stood for then and for everything the school means to us now."
Amid much protest from alumni, faculty, parents and students, the Archdiocese of Baltimore closed the all-boys Catholic school two years ago. Declining enrollment and costs of maintaining the aging school building left church officials no choice. They announced in March that the 32-acre property at Wilkens and Caton avenues would be sold to St. Agnes Hospital, its nearest neighbor.
At Sunday's reunion, a photo of Hughes, Richardson and Jerry Schmidt, the team Gibbons entered into the "It's Academic" competition, generated a lot of talk. Gibbons took second place.
"It was a kind of Trivial Pursuit before there was that game," Schmidt said of the local TV show, popular in the 1970s. "We lost when we could not come up with the name of the coach of the Washington Redskins. That would not happen today, but then the NFL was not what it is today."
The memories flowed easily and sparked laughter and briefs moments of reflection.
"Steve never wanted to be the center of attention, but he always was," said Schmidt, a Parkton resident. "He was quick-witted, a great story teller and was completely oblivious to all his talents."
While many graduates had a short list of accomplishments under their senior yearbook photos, Hughes had nothing.
"That was his choice," said Richardson, a lifelong friend, who is chief of geriatric medicine at Saint Agnes Hospital. "We had to each submit our own, and he was too busy to get around to it. He was student council president, an actor in the school drama productions and a member of the forensics team. He was into everything. The list would not have fit on the page."
Charlie Selhorst traveled the farthest to the gathering, from his home in Hawaii. "When I got the email from Steve, I had to come. He was just the nicest guy, so easy to hang out with. I cannot imagine what his daughters are going through."
At Sarah's wedding, Hughes stood before more than 200 guests and talked freely of his joy at getting to spend time with the young couple, who lived in England.
"He got up and made a very impassioned speech about how blessed he had been by his children," said his brother, Kevin Hughes.
News of the tragic accident shot back across the Atlantic Ocean quickly, and by Tuesday morning, family and friends were gathering to mourn.
"We had at least 50 people on my deck Tuesday evening, getting together, all in shock," said Kevin Brohawn, a close friend who had played in a band with Hughes since their teen years.
"We were all talking about him, crying about him, talking about him and laughing about him," Brohawn said. "That went on through the wee hours of the morning."
Hughes, a Ten Hills resident, was a proficient attorney, a big practical joker, a singer, a poker player and a lover of the show "60 Minutes," which he would watch each Sunday night with Kevin and Donna Brohawn, who considered Hughes a member of their family.
"He has the sharpest wit and could make you laugh in a minute or less," Donna Brohawn said. "If he didn't know you when you walked into a room, he knew you when you left."
Kevin Hughes said his large family — eight siblings and their father, Joseph Hughes, 92 — are in close contact with the Pain family in England and have also reached out to Brooks' parents in North Carolina.
The family will rally around Sarah and Angela, as well as their brother, Andrew Hughes, of Ellicott City; his wife, Erika; and their three children.
Brooks has had surgery on her arm but is recovering well, and Pain has been released from the intensive care unit. Both women are expected to recover fully, Kevin Hughes said.
Stephen Hughes would want his family to put all their energy toward helping his children and grandchildren, his brother said.
"That's going to be our focus going forward, trying to serve his memory best that way," he said.
Richardson called the extended Hughes clan "the typical Irish Catholic family.
"They are very accomplished and really great people," he said. "They will help each other through this."
The family has not made funeral arrangements yet.
Kevin Hughes said the family appreciates the support it has received, and the generosity showered on it reminds him of his brother.
"I thought the world of him because he's my big brother," Hughes said. "He's the most generous person I've ever known, and we're going to miss him a bunch."
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