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A Pledge Fulfilled

Mike Hughes, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1970, died in Richmond recently at the end of a 16-year battle with lung cancer. He was 65.

Mike was president of The Martin Agency, named the top ad agency in the country by AdWeek in 2010, and we blogged about him in January 2011 after he had been inducted into the One Club’s Creative Hall of Fame and had a building named for him at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was later named to the Advertising Hall of Fame.

There have been numerous tributes to Mike’s amazing work over the years and to his spirit in the face of his cancer. The Martin Agency posted a wonderful video interview with him on its home page (video link is at the bottom of that page) and the Times Dispatch had a front page obituary.

But Mike also wrote his own “autobiographical obituary” on Unfinished Thinking, his personal blog, where, starting in earnest last December, he shared his thoughts on everything from his bad handwriting to advice on creativity. If you start from his initial post on Dec. 12, 2012 and work forward, you will be captivated by the stories Mike tells.

Back in January, Mike’s oncologist told him he had maybe two weeks to live. In a Jan. 24, 2013, entry, Mike wrote, “It’s amazing how freeing being given a limited time frame can be. . . I completely stopped worrying about the items in my written lists and the lists that exist in the cracks in the back of my mind.”

And yet, there was one list that he still felt guilty about failing to tackle, and it involved Washington and Lee:

When I was a senior English major in 1970, the world was going a little crazy. Protests, students taking over University, riots, Kent State, etc. Of course (of course!) we couldn’t take tests in that environment. So a skeptical but graceful professor in my “Modern British Novel” course, made us pledge that we read five specific novels. I took the pledge and immediately lost the reading list. I’ve been meaning for the past 43 years to see if I could find it to finish my assignment. I’m not sure, but I’m betting that’s not going to happen now.

Having read that entry, some of Mike’s colleagues at The Martin Agency called Washington and Lee to see if someone could resurrect that list. It took some doing, but eventually they wound up in contact with Rhea Huntley Kosovic, whose father is Bob Huntley (English Bob, as he was known, to distinguish him from President Bob Huntley). Bob, who taught at W&L from 1962 until his retirement in 1994, was indeed the author that list.

With some help from others, some conversations with her father and some searching in his old class files (but mostly because she knew her father’s preferences so well), Rhea was able to recreate the list and make it available to the folks at The Martin Agency.

So on Feb. 13 this year, Mike received an email from the ITS department at The Martin Agency, telling him that the books were going to be added to his iPad. Now we don’t know with any certainty that Mike was able to fulfill that pledge to Bob Huntley, but we do think it’s pretty much a classic W&L story of students and faculty and community.

And the list? You might want to add these to your iPads as well:

  • The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion by Ford Madox Ford
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

If you know any W&L alumni who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.