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Despite sometimes showing a hard exterior for labour matters, Edward Stephen McHugh Sr. had a heart of gold.
“My father was emotional, but in a funny way. He would cry at sad movies, yet he rarely emoted his feelings in public. He was raised in an era when children were to be seen and not heard. He came from a family of nine, yet he described a dinner table where there was not a lot of chatter,” recalled Ed McHugh Jr.
In 1973, McHugh Jr. witnessed – for the first time – his father mourn while breaking the news that a fire had claimed the lives of his sister-in-law’s four children and scarred her body with burns.
“I remember my father leaving our home around midnight. A phone call revealed there was a fire at my mother’s sister’s (Aunt Mame’s) house. Returning around 5 a.m., he sat on the edge of my bed and wept as he described the tragic fire,” McHugh Jr. recalled.
“Her property bordered on Local 63’s union hall in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. Out of respect for my father and his family, the union (of the pulp-and-paper mill) bought Aunt Mame’s property so that no family would ever live on that piece of land again.”
Grand Falls was a ‘company town.’ Residents worked in the pulp and paper mill surrounded by the hum of motors and machinery. The company owned everything, including homes.
At age 17, McHugh Sr. followed his father’s (John’s) footsteps into the mill before joining the union.
“My father served first as the executive secretary-treasurer of Local 63, the International Brotherhood of Pulp Sulfite and Paper Mill Workers. I distinctly remember the pride he displayed when Local 63 burnt their mortgage on their union hall.”
He became the longest-serving president of Local 63 in Grand Falls-Windsor. But in 1976, McHugh Sr. made a life-altering decision when the union offered him the position as their representative for southern New Brunswick.
“For a guy who had lived his whole life in Grand Falls, this was large. But he decided to take on the challenge and moved to, then, a tiny place called Quispamsis. From then until 1993, he served his members well.”
Orland and Barbara Wright, of Saint Andrews, N.B., said McHugh Sr. was instrumental in setting up a pension plan for those employed at Lake Utopia Paper.
“I met Edward and Aggie McHugh in 1976 when they came over from Newfoundland to be our union representative at Lake Utopia Paper. Edward was like a brother to me. He maintained a close friendship with all the union men,” said Orland.
“My wife and I vacationed with Edward and Aggie several times in Florida. They helped us get our vacation home there. We had a lot of great times listening to music on the deck, cracking into lobster dinners during the summer, and just a wonderful friendship over the years. We miss him dearly.”
McHugh Jr. recalls chatting with a manager that his father had dealt with many times.
“He said, ‘You know, and when you dealt with Ed McHugh, he was a man of ethics. You didn’t need a signed contract. If you got a handshake from him, you had a deal'.”
Married to Agnes (“Aggie”) for 63 years, McHugh Sr. was a devoted family man, father, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend.
“My father religiously served my mother her toast and tea every night at 10 p.m. Even when they shared a room at the hospital over the past six months,” said McHugh, while paying tribute to his compassionate and loving father who passed away on Feb. 12, aged 88.
He added, “Think about it, how fortunate is any human being who gets to bear the title of great-grandfather (and great-grandmother). He was a great man.”