By MARK ROSARIO ’20
While students were in class on the morning of November 19, employees of the NJ Monument Company quietly installed a new, polished granite bench outside the choir room. It is dedicated to former choir teacher Mr. Winston Hughes, who passed away on October 3, 2018. His career at Edison Township Public Schools lasted from 1964 to 1996.
Mr. Hughes started out as choir teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and then became choir director at Edison High. His students remember him fondly; Lisa Quinn ‘81 remembers that “he was a mentor, he was a dad to some of us. He held us to a higher standard, and even in his retirement his compassion was no different.” Mr. Hughes held the same fondness for his students. While he taught at Edison High, he had a tradition of performing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at every winter concert and gathering alumni so they could sing along.
“He had a profound impact on every life he touched,” said Ms. Quinn. One tear-inducing memory from her high school choir years was when Mr. Hughes, in a small break between rehearsing songs, said out of the blue “I love you guys. I’m not quite sure why, but I love you guys.” Ms. Quinn says, “and of course our hearts just melted right then.”
The bench was a collaborative effort, with former members of the Edison High School Alumni Ensemble, a choir composed of Mr. Hughes’s past students, helping to raise funds for and design the bench. Ms. Quinn, an ensemble member who watched the bench’s installation, said that the arrival of new technology—namely a Facebook group titled “Winston Hughes – Best Chorus Teacher ever!”—helped past students reunite with each other to form the ensemble and bond over their memories of Mr. Hughes. The ensemble met from 2011 to 2016, when Mr. Hughes moved to an assisted living home. Even then, students would visit him there to sing with him.
The music notes to the left of Mr. Hughes’s name on the bench are more than just decoration. Designed by Cristoforo Medichini ‘82, they are the last eight notes to the song “My Wish for You,” which Mr. Hughes also performed every year. The lyrics that match the notes are “we wish you till we meet again.” They were the very last lyrics that former students sang with him at his assisted living home before his death. Mr. Hughes was not prone to crying, according to Ms. Quinn, but that song made him tear up.