A tribute to Connor Hughes

An athlete, a music lover and a competitor, Class of ’18 standout leaves behind legacy of kindness, compassion, joy

Hughes played on the football team prior to moving to New Mexico for his senior year. At his memorial service, head coach Thomas Gammerdinger presented the Hughes family with a 2017 UIL semi-finalist medal.

courtesy of Karie Winfree

Hughes played on the football team prior to moving to New Mexico for his senior year. At his memorial service, head coach Thomas Gammerdinger presented the Hughes family with a 2017 UIL semi-finalist medal. “Despite the fact that he was not here for his senior season, he certainly deserved that medal and to be recognized as a member of that historic group,” Gammerdinger said.

Bella Russo, co-editor in chief

In a moving memorial ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 16 on the football practice field, the McCallum community gathered to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Connor Hughes, a member of the Class of 2018. Hughes, 21, passed away on Jan. 11 after being struck by a car. The large crowd that spread out along the hill overlooking the field where Hughes once played included his family, his former coaches, his Mac teammates and classmates as well as his colleagues from the Texas Army National Guard and the Mister Car Wash where he worked.

Hughes’ friends and family recalled that he loved life, and they loved him for it. He was fiercely competitive in everything from football to classical guitar, he served in the National Guard Reserve and managed a car washing business.

Army Specialist Connor Hughes in his Texas National Guard dress uniform. At his memorial service, Hughes was granted military honors. Photo courtesy of Karie Winfree.

Hughes was able to do all these things because he was incredibly motivated, with an unrivaled work ethic and a free-spirited attitude. Those who knew him well said he was confident but never vain. Independent and selfless. Kind and strong—physically and in spirit. He was fit, a smooth talker, the life of any party and fiercely loyal.

“[Connor] was the kind of friend who made sure, no matter where he was or what was going on, that he maintained the important relationships in his life,” said Karie Winfree, Hughes’ mother.

Those close to Hughes commented on his unlimited capacity to care. He cherished his relationships with his lifelong friends and family and extended this same kindness out to anyone he met. Connor was “the gentleman of gentlemen,” the young man who stopped to help old ladies carry their bags at the grocery store.

Lily Myers, Hughes’ girlfriend, remembers a quick shopping trip where a couple approached Hughes to ask for help.

“One time, we were at Walgreens and this man was asking for money. Normally you’d just give them some money and chat with them a little bit, but Connor literally picked them up and drove the couple all the way to their apartment 30 minutes away,” Myers said. “He was the kindest person I’ve ever met. He was just very selfless.”

Hughes took on life with ferocity. After graduating from McCallum, he entered the National Guard and split his time between weekend training and working at a Mister Car Wash. Like with everything he did, Hughes took his job seriously. His work ethic commanded respect, and his dedication produced some of the fastest run times in the Guard. Hughes’ awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the Texas Outstanding Service Medal.

Football coach Thomas Gammerdinger observed firsthand Hughes’ work ethic when he played on the McCallum football team.

[Connor] was the kind of friend who made sure, no matter where he was or what was going on, that he maintained the important relationships in his life.”

— Karie Winfree, Hughes' mother

“Connor was a great kid,” Gammerdinger said. “He always had a positive attitude and was one of the hardest workers I have been around. He always wanted feedback on what he could do better and worked so hard to improve. He always put the team’s interest ahead of his own. He was a good football player but an even better teammate and person.”

As a manager at Mister Car Wash, Hughes led by example, always taking on extra work and supporting his co-workers. To see someone work so hard inspired the entire crew. It also helped that Hughes was incredibly fun to be around. After work, sometimes they would freestyle rap together. On his birthday, his co-workers all brought him gifts.

“He would always talk about his workers and stuff and be like, ‘How do I fix this problem?’ Like, ‘this person wasn’t feeling good today, how do I fix this?’ He really cared,” Myers said.

His friends said his passion for life was contagious. Hughes’ favorite book was Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which makes perfect sense considering his love of adventure. Friends describe Hughes as someone who was “down for anything.”

“We’d go on drives in his car and just jam to music,” childhood friend Miles Vander-Venett said. “We went to the Greenbelt a lot and would go cliff jumping. There were lots of nights we would spend around the fire, all of us just talking and hanging out.”

His free-spirited attitude and sense of humor also made Hughes the life of the party. He was full of surprises and talents: a passion for fitness, a love of music and college football. He had a knack for connecting with people and a talent for conversation. Myers remembers Connor’s impressive freestyle ability, which made for a hilarious party trick and more projects for Hughes to pour his energy into.

Aside from playing on the football team, Hughes was also a classical guitarist at McCallum. Photo courtesy of Karie Winfree.

“He loved rap music and had started recording songs with his friend Jacob,” Winfree said. “He was really excited to share what he was doing with everyone and even made some clean(er) versions for me. He could parallel park a semi, freestyle about anything, cook (though he lived on a diet of Tyson’s Tacos and Chilantro), play guitar, manage a business—anything that was a challenge, he would face it and conquer it.”

Hughes, a friend to everyone, loved spending time with the people he cared about, no matter the occasion. Myers remembers her boyfriend as someone she could talk to for hours. One of her favorite memories is from a “Girls Night” with her friends (and Hughes, of course). Since the theme of the night was purple, Hughes borrowed an approp- riately-colored turtleneck and skirt and spent the night dancing and laughing with his girlfriend and their friends. She thinks this night is a good summary of how Hughes lived: carefree, fun and able to light up any room.

“[Connor] just had a big heart. He just kept on running, kept on fighting,” Myers said. “I think he was just loved living. And I think he was passionate about everything. He was a badass.” Hughes is survived by his many friends, parents that are incredibly proud of him, a treasured girlfriend, and two beloved siblings.

“He was adored by his younger sister, Emma, and his even younger brother, Graham,” Winfree said. “To them, he was ‘Big Bubba’, always good for a wrestling match, a joke, or a hug. Connor always made sure nothing was left unsaid — every phone call was punctuated with ‘I love you.’”

He always put the team’s interest ahead of his own. He was a good football player but an even better teammate and person.”

— Football coach Thomas Gammerdinger

Beyond that is a school, a workplace and a community that is better off from having Connor Hughes in it. “He just impacted everyone he met in life in a positive way,” Vander-Venett said.

“He always was a fun person to be around and would be there for people when they needed it. Never held judgment against others, only wanted to lift others up.” It seems fitting that even after he’s gone, Hughes’ legacy continues. Tyson’s Tacos, a favorite of the Mac alum, plans to offer a special in his honor: a Princess Leia with avocado served “Connor’s way,” just how he liked it. Hughes’ impact also continues in the lives of others, as he saved many by being a registered organ donor.

“As a further testament to his loving, giving nature, Connor had signed up to be an organ donor,” Winfree said. “Though we are still grieving his loss, it gives us some peace knowing that four people were able to live on because of his gift.”

In the lives of everyone that knew him, Hughes leaves behind his inspirational motivation, passion for life and persistent kindness and empathy.

“He was so motivated that it made me want to be motivated. And now, especially after he’s gone, it just makes me want to do so much more with my life,” Myers said. “Connor always wanted to get a bus and drive around America, and I kind of think I should do that now. It makes me want to actually live. I feel like you kind of do more living for him, for him to live through you.”