Diebold Ellsworth Hughes, a retired Edgewood Arsenal chemist who founded a Northeast Baltimore real estate firm, died of a heart attack Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 83 and lived in Morgan Park.
Born in Milton, N.C., he was the son of Adolphus and Katie Hughes, who owned and operated a tobacco farm near the Virginia-Maryland border.
“As a young man, he would go with his father to neighborhoods in Danville, Va., where they would barter and peddle produce from the family farm,” said his son, Roger Hughes of Baltimore. “He watched his father develop relationships with business owners and families who extended his family credit and sold them land. This was a source of inspiration for him later on in life.”
He earned a chemistry degree from what is now North Carolina Central University in 1957. He came to Baltimore during his college summers and worked at Bethlehem Steel and stayed with a sister who had moved here. He then served in the Army, moved to Baltimore and bought a home through a veteran’s mortgage program.
He became a Department of Defense chemist at Edgewood Arsenal, where he worked for the Army’s chemical weapons detection division for 32 years.
As a sideline to his work at Edgewood, Mr. Hughes began selling real estate in 1962. He was initially an agent for the Mann Agency. He worked alongside his wife, the former Barbara Graves, who initially was his office manager, and had an office at his home, then located on Ready Avenue in Govans.
“He had a dream of making a fortune, and he listened to his father who told him to ‘stay on his books,’” said another son, Jerome Hughes of Asheville, N.C.
In 1966, he founded the Hughes Realty Co., a brokerage now located on East Belvedere Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.
“He was a quiet man who kept to himself and sold properties in Northeast Baltimore,” said James Crockett, a former real estate agent in the African-American community and former president of the Board of Fire Commissioners. “He was a wonderful person and had a fine family, too.”
Family members said that although Mr. Hughes encountered discrimination in selling real estate in the 1960s and 1970s, he did not complain and chose to work things out for himself.
“He never complained. Dad was really good at making people feel comfortable,” Jerome Hughes said. “He had the gifts of personality and discernment. He could win people over and gained the confidence of white home owners who might be selling their homes. He made them realize it was good for them to hire a good black sales agent.”
His son said his father’s turning point occurred when he got his broker’s license and he established an agency with other people working with him.
“He was a pioneering African-American broker, and he went on to have white agents work for his agency,” Jerome Hughes said. “My father displayed courage and tremendous wisdom. He also had a detailed knowledge of programs that were out there to help former renters buy their own homes.”
Denise Hairston, a marketing coordinator at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, recalled Mr. Hughes’ ability to work with new buyers.
“He was great with first-time home buyers,” she said. “He had a real compassion for the community and the people he was helping.”
Mr. Hughes spent his free time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He also liked bargain hunting with coupons at grocery stores and hosting backyard cookouts.
A funeral will be held at noon Saturday at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave., where he had been president of its Welcome Circle. As a young man, he had taught Sunday school at New Haven Baptist Church in Milton, N.C.
In addition to his wife of 54 years and his two sons, survivors include two additional sons, Rodney Hughes of Baltimore and Carlton Hughes of Sacramento, Calif.; three sisters, Katie Richmond of Milton, N.C., Martha Lee of Baltimore and Carolyn Bigelow of Teaneck, N.J.; 13 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.