By Michael J. Frost
“What a legacy Mr. Hughes has left behind.”
Those are words echoed by many across the Branson area and beyond as they remember the life of Gary W. Hughes.
Hughes, 74, of Branson, Missouri passed away Sunday, June 8, 2014, at his home following a long battle with cancer.
Gary is patriarch of the Hughes family of entertainers, and co-owner of The Hughes Brothers Theater, located on 76 Blvd. in Branson. He was influential in building the show, which over the last 20 years has grown from featuring five Hughes Brothers (Gary’s sons), to more than 50 extended family members performing on stage together. It has become one of Branson’s most popular and enduring shows, and today the Hughes Family is known as one of the world’s largest entertaining families.
Gary and his wife Lena were instrumental in “starting it all” as they brought their talented sons to Branson in 1995 to accept a performing contract at Silver Dollar City.
In 2000, just five years after coming to town, Gary and his family purchased the former Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre, which soon became The Hughes Brothers Theater.
“Dad was always the ‘Leader of the Band’. He started ‘it’ all,” said eldest son, Marty Hughes. “But the thing I will always remember most is that Dad gave me his time and he wanted me there to experience what he loved most.”
In addition to being a co-owner of the theater, Gary ran the sound for the show for many years and also became known for his “Papa Hughes’ Fudge.” He is also fondly remembered performing in the role of “Santa Claus” in the Hughes Brothers Christmas Show.
Jeff Topper has worked for the Hughes Family for several years, and said he will always carry fond memories of Gary.
“I have actually known the family for 20 years and have worked for them for almost 10. Gary was fun to be around, and you always felt better about yourself having been around him. There were times during the Christmas season when things were so busy that I couldn’t get away for a haircut — and when he heard about it he came to the theatre and cut my hair in the office. This was not a big deal to him, but it was to me. He had a knack for knowing what people needed and how he could be of service to them. Many times he provided service and no one would know that it came from him. He was honest and exemplified that integrity in everything he did. He instilled that same integrity in his sons, daughters and grandchildren. He was very funny, and he not only knew how to work hard but play hard as well,” Topper said.
Topper continued, “I don’t have the words to adequately express my love, as well as my gratitude, for Gary Hughes. I will miss his enthusiasm, his kindness, his engaging personality, his work ethic, his sales ability, and his competitive nature. I will miss hearing his testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his love for the Savior and his expression of love for his family. I will miss his calls asking for B.Y.U. basketball and football scores, I will miss him as Santa Clause in the Christmas show and his rich and beautiful singing voice. He will continue to have an incredible impact on the lives of my family as we remember him and his great example and the way he always left people better off than when he met them. The truly wonderful thing is all those things I will miss about him he has passed on to his sons who all share those same attributes, and my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger for having seen his testimony in action — not just in words.”
Members of the Cole Family, who perform together as Voices of Glory in their own show at The Hughes Brothers Theater, shared their love and appreciation for Gary.
Avery Cole said, “Mr. Hughes is definitely one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Even to his last day, he was always doing something to make everybody else happy. Even with our shows, he could barely walk, but sometimes he would make it to our shows just to show support — so that spoke volumes. He’s had cancer for about six years, but since I’ve met him, he’s always been uplifting, even on his deathbed.”
Avery said he and his siblings visited Gary about a week ago and sang by his bedside.
“We went over and he was still making jokes, getting up and moving around. He was just so excited to see us. That’s the type of guy he was, just a really nice guy and down to Earth. No matter what, he was always trying to smile,” he added.
Avery and his brother and sister, Michael and Nadia, make up the group, Voices of Glory, who gained national exposure as a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
“Since then, we’ve been everywhere from Germany to Madison Square Garden. We’re just so blessed to be here in Branson,” Avery said.
It was the Hughes Family who helped them secure a place to perform — and Avery said he will always be grateful.
The group was performing at the Andy Williams Christmas show when Gary’s wife, Lena, saw them. “She brought Jason Hughes to see us, and they deiced they wanted us. We sat down and talked with Mr. Hughes and everybody, and that’s how we got into the theater.”
They now perform their show, Ayo, regularly at The Hughes Brothers Theater.
Gerard Cole is an uncle to the siblings and also serves as their manager. Gerard echoed the sentiments of his nephew and expressed his appreciation for Gary and The Hughes’ Family for opening up their stage to the Cole siblings.
“As a manager I thought that was very important, as Gary was somebody who had a lot of influence in the theater area with his children. He has seen a lot of stars and a lot of people perform,” Gerard said, noting his gratitude to him for opening up the theater and welcoming the Cole siblings to their stage.
Gerard said Gary was not only a supportive fan of the group, but a great mentor as well.
“Gary was a tremendous mentor for the children. One of the things I can remember most was during our opening show, I knew he was home and wasn’t feeling well — but I looked up and actually saw him walking into our show. He had his walker with him. He said, ‘I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the world.’ It was just so touching that he would come and support the children in that manner. He was a complete gentleman.”
Joshua Clark is the entertainment editor for Branson Tri-Lakes News. Clark wrote in his blog, “Each and every time I went to see any of the shows calling the theater home, I always saw him hard at work helping the family build their business. Anytime we spoke, it was always a pleasure and you could see by the look in his eyes he knew he was exactly where he needed to be — surrounded by his family.”
Many fans of the show and friends of the family have been expressing their condolences on the Hughes Family Facebook page.
“Deepest sympathies to Lena, family and all my friends at the Hughes Brothers theatre on the passing of Papa Hughes,” stated local entertainer, Jim Barber.
“It was an honor to know Gary Hughes and his amazing family. He led a truly remarkable life and raised talented, faithful children. My heart goes out to the Hughes Brothers and the entire Hughes family,” stated Deidre Hulse Henderson, Utah State Senator.
“Our condolences and prayers for your family,” shared The Haygoods, who are also a performing family in Branson.
Gary’s wife Lena is quoted in his obituary, “Gary was a loving and devoted husband and father. He served faithfully as the Patriarch of our large family. We were all influenced for the better by his passion for life, sports, music, business, gardening, and especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the last couple of months, as he was laid up at home in hospice care, his faith never wavered; he rarely complained and never lost his sense of humor.”
Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 9113 State Hwy 76, Branson West, Missouri (near Notch, Missouri) with Bishop William Mahoney officiating. Prior to the services, Visitation will be at the Church from 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Burial at Evergreen Cemetery, located on Hwy 76 between Hwy 265 and Indian Point Rd., will follow the services.
An obituary and an in-depth story of the life of Gary Hughes can be viewed here:http://hughesbrothersshow.blogspot.com/2014/06/gary-w-hughes-beloved-patriarch-of.html.