John and Vi Hughes

The former Principal of Ruskin College, John Hughes died aged 86 on the 1st November 2013.  This was only two weeks after his wife of 66 years, Vi, died aged 91.  They met when they both travelled to Yugoslavia in 1948 to help rebuild the Sarajevo railway line as Young Communists. Both became tutors at Ruskin from the late 1950s. John specialised in Economics, Politics and Industrial Relations.  As well as teaching, John wrote numerous publications, worked with the Trades Union Congress and also Labour ministers in the Wilson Government. He believed that the unions in conjunction with Labour were the dynamic to change society in a socialist direction.

With Roy Moore, he founded Ruskin’s Trade Union Research Unit which for many years conducted crucial research for trade unions seeking better pay and conditions including the miners, teachers, public sector workers, car workers and seamen, In conjunction with this, he established a Labour Studies Course and advanced courses for trade union officials.  Locally they worked to improve conditions in the Oxford car factories. In 1979 he was appointed Principal of Ruskin College succeeding Billy Hughes. His many achievements were underpinned by his socialist beliefs, his commitment to working-class education and a socialist society.

His thirty years saw changes from Ruskin as a place for young male shop stewards and activists, to one that included substantial numbers of women and increasingly older people.

Believing in roses as well as bread, Vi Hughes set up the Literature course at Ruskin and also helped students to improve their written expression. A lover of poetry she brought many writers to the College to read to and discuss with students.   She had previously taught in schools in Aberdeen and Edinburgh before moving on to work with the Workers’ Education Association. Vi too, was passionate about redressing inequality and education.  She incorporated politics and social justice into her teaching of literature. After Vi stopped teaching at Ruskin she wrote about Access to the Arts for the Arts Council and latterly set up the Ransackers’ project which enabled those aged over 55 to undertake research projects at Ruskin or Plater College. Her enthusiasm for culture and politics was well-known as was her local activism which included Chair of Governors at a local Comprehensive school.

John Hughes had a tremendous impact in the development of Ruskin College during significant periods in history when the labour movement went through many shifts and challenges.  His legacy still lives on.  Both John and Vi Hughes made major contributions to Ruskin College. They were well known in the local community and built up relationships between Ruskin and the neighbourhood. They will be sadly missed.

Katherine Hughes and Annie Skinner – November 2013

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3 thoughts on “John and Vi Hughes

  1. George D Thompson

    I have been invited to attend an event to celebrate the lives of John and Vi Hughes which I will not be attending for a number of reasons.Firstly, since my only income is the State Pension, plus Pension Credit I can’t really afford to attend, but more importanty I would not be welcome by the formerly Communist Left who have villianised me since leaving Ruskin because at meetings of the Ruskin Students’ Association (as it used to be called) I opposed their plans to close the college, supposedly because of the college’s refusal to introduce “Marxist” dogma into every course, and I would not be welcomed by the myopic members of the Modern Labour Party with their”business friendly” support of Global Capitalism.

    I was never close to John, although I respected and admired him, but Vi was my tutor. In the year that I attended Ruskin she supported our forming the Literature Workshop and the workshop’s first publication “Reflections in a Ruskin Pond” was largely inspired by her. She was a humane teacher, and when Roger the poet found it difficult to write an academic essay she weaned him on to the genre by asking him to “write letters to her” about literature. She found no contradiction between what some, at the time, condemned as “Bourgesie Literature” and once told me that during the vacations she liked to re-read Jane Austin. Vi was (to use a cliche of the time) always a part of the solution, and never a part of the problem. The world is poorer for her passing.

    PS. Please give my regards to the Stoke House Ghost, if she has not moved on.

    Derek Thompson


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