Every November for the past 14 years, veteran Arthur Hughes stood at the corner of Robson and Hornby streets in downtown Vancouver, always smiling and wearing the uniform he was issued 60 years ago.
Most Vancouverites knew Mr. Hughes, who died Friday morning at the age of 80, as the energetic, elderly man who sold poppies for more than 10 hours a day in the week or so leading up to Remembrance Day, securing each and every pin sold on to the lapels of passersby himself. Mr. Hughes served in the British Army and Canadian Forces.
Those close to him say Mr. Hughes’s convictions extended far beyond his devotion to the poppy campaign.
Steven Epperson, parish minister at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, which Mr. Hughes faithfully attended for decades, remembered the retired veteran as a “deeply principled person” who was very proud of his service – not just in the military, but in everyday life. He served as the church’s auctioneer and frequently volunteered to mow the lawn and take care of the grounds, right up until this past summer.
“He would be out there with his shirt off, mowing away,” Mr. Epperson recalled with a chuckle.
Derek Allen, president of Vancouver’s Billy Bishop legion, of which Mr. Hughes became a member in 1996, said Mr. Hughes served as the legion’s archivist. When smoking was banned at the legion, Mr. Hughes took it upon himself to clean the nicotine stains from every badge and plaque.
“It’s not something you can wash off; you had to scrape it off,” Mr. Allen said. “It took him about half an hour for each plaque. He did this over a number of years and virtually nobody knew about it because he came in when the legion was closed.”
Mr. Hughes’s principles also drew him to larger causes: In 1965, he participated in a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, Mr. Epperson remembered.
“He was living in Ontario at the time and he heard from the Unitarian Church pulpit in Toronto ... that they needed people down there to help drive,” he said. “He met all the major characters: Martin Luther King Jr. and others. He drove people around and was involved in that big march. He said it was the high point of his life.”
As a poppy fund volunteer, Mr. Hughes collected $125,000 in donations in the last six years alone, Mr. Allen said. He is estimated to have brought in around $200,000 altogether – a figure believed to be the most by any one person in Canada.
“It was funny: He built up sort of a clientele,” Mr. Allen said, laughing. “He had a number of people who put $100 bills into his tray. He was chatty and he would strike up conversations with people and they wouldn’t brush him off the way they might brush off a cadet or something.”
Mr. Hughes, who received the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in 2008, told The Globe and Mail in 2009 he found meeting new people to be the most rewarding aspect of the task.
“One of the interesting things about volunteering is the range of people that you meet,” he said at the time. “Last year, I totalled 27 countries. You name any country and they come by.”
Photographer Tom Weibe has bought his poppies from Mr. Hughes for as long as he can remember.
“He was just always so happy,” said Mr. Weibe, who snapped a photo of the veteran in 2010. “He was always the first one you saw out there with poppies.”
“He was just a remarkable human being,” Mr. Allen said. “You don’t always get a lot of day-to-day credit for that, but on his passing, you think of Arthur: ‘My God, he was a good fellow.’ ”
The Billy Bishop legion is hoping to maintain a presence at Mr. Hughes’s corner at Robson and Hornby.
A celebration of Mr. Hughes’s life is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.