WEST WARWICK — At 102 years old, Dick Hughes has achieved a lot in his lifetime.
“I think I accomplished something in life through my associations with other people and organizations,” Hughes said. “I was always trying to do the right thing.”
The lifelong West Warwick resident celebrated his birthday on Thursday at West View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he’s lived since the summer of 2020. And during a video call on Wednesday, he reflected on some of the experiences that have shaped him into the centenarian he is today.
Hughes spent much of his life in Crompton, where he was a longtime parishioner of St. Mary’s Church, and was involved in several local organizations.
“It was a very active community,” Hughes said of the village where he grew up. “And it hasn’t changed that much.”
Whether swimming in the Pawtuxet River, attending an event sponsored by the fire department, or playing baseball at the fields near the mill, Hughes and his childhood pals were never bored.
“There was always something going on in Crompton,” he said. “There was always something to do, and you didn’t have to go very far to do it.”
Hughes attended St. James School, before going on to study at West Warwick High School.
One of his fondest memories from that time is of his daily walks to school with Elsie Hartman, a girl a couple of grades ahead of him.
“She lived on the same street as I did,” Hughes said of Hartman, who would later become his wife. “We would walk all the way to the high school — that was a pretty nice walk, especially when you’ve got your girl with you.”
After graduating in 1937, Hughes worked part time at a local grocery store with his father. His dad eventually purchased the store, and running it became somewhat of “a family affair,” Hughes said.
“My mother worked there,” he recalled. “It was an interesting job, and I enjoyed it.”
Hughes and Hartman were married in 1941, and the two stayed together until her death 60 years later. The couple had a daughter, who today lives in California, and a son, who lives in Foster.
Soon after getting married, Hughes was drafted into the military. He became a photographer in the U.S. Air Force, and was tasked with mapping the topography of the United States.
“It was a good assignment,” said Hughes, who was stationed in Washington. “It was a hobby that developed into a profession.”
Hughes has always loved photography, he said over the video call Wednesday, photos that he’s taken over the years lining the wall behind him. Wherever he lived, he always had a dark room set up where he could develop his images.
Looking back, Hughes said it was likely his father who instilled within him a passion for capturing moments on film.
“I was born in 1920,” he said, “and he had a camera, and he took a lot of pictures. In 1920, not many people did their own photography; he’d take it to the drugstore, then wait a week to get it back.”
Music is another of Hughes’ lifelong passions. He and his brother Amby would play the popular music of the day at venues around West Warwick, Hughes on the guitar and his brother on vocals.
Hughes has always enjoyed singing, as well, and used to perform in musicals with the Coventry Players.
When not snapping photographs or performing music with his brother, Hughes as a young man may have been found flying. After the war he earned his pilot’s license — a feat he’s still proud to have accomplished.
One flight, in particular, stands out in his mind, even after all these years .
“One day I showed up for flying lessons, and [the instructor] said, ‘this is a good day for you — you’re going to take your first solo flight,’” he said.
Hughes was to fly by himself from Rhode Island to Manchester, New Hampshire and then back.
“And that made my knees a little wobbly,” he recalled.
But he faced his fears, and he’s glad that he did.
After leaving the Air Force, Hughes began a career as a mail carrier. He maintained a route through West Warwick — mainly Arctic Village — for some 20 years, before hanging his hat in 1975.
He loved that job, he said, and relished the opportunity to get to know the people who lived and worked along his route.
“I knew the ones who made the apple pie, and all that,” he said. “I loved it, I loved the people — I hated to leave, in a way, but it was nice to retire.”
Aside from enjoying the work, his job as a postal carrier allowed Hughes to buy a home that he loved on Campbell Street.
Hughes was elected to the West Warwick Town Council in 1978, but chose to leave after one term. He later became a part-time recreation director for the town.
These days, Hughes enjoys listening to music and doing the puzzles in the newspaper. He tries to stay active, he said, despite having to remain mostly indoors because of the pandemic.
“I used to like to read a lot,” he added, “but I don’t read that much anymore because, well, frankly, I start reading and I fall asleep.”
Still, Hughes hardly notices that he’s now a year older.
“[One-hundred-two] doesn’t feel any different than 101,” he said with a laugh.
Asked about the key to longevity, Hughes can’t say exactly what has kept him around for more than a century.
“I think the good Lord said, ‘let him stay here a while to get to know people,’” he said.