Making a Difference
Mary K. Hughes JD’74 has a full plate. She’s an attorney, a radio show host, a campaign chief administrative officer for a U.S. Senator, a Willamette University trustee, a trustee of the University of Alaska Foundation, a regent for the University of Alaska, director of the Providence Alaska Foundation and the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, and a spouse, mother and grandmother — and she still finds time to work out every morning.
While Hughes’ non-stop schedule would overwhelm most of us, she finds all the activity and involvement invigorating. “It’s exhilarating,” she says, grinning. “There’s not a day that goes by without a crisis. I’m pretty good at crisis management and I can do a lot of tasks simultaneously, so my plate is always full. For me, it’s fun.”
The Kodiak, Alaska native prepared for her whirlwind career by getting an undergraduate degree in business management at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, studying graduate-level labor economics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and earning her JD at Willamette University College of Law. It was her father, legendary Alaskan attorney John C. Hughes, one of the founders of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman, one of the state’s most respected law firms, who chose Willamette for her. “My father had hired several Willamette lawyers and thought they were excellent,” she says. “He knew Willamette would train me well.”
At Willamette, Hughes had the advantage of studying with professors who are considered the stalwarts of Willamette. She cites Jack Mylan, John Paulus and Henry Bailey as favorites. “The whole experience at Willamette provided maturation and a great educational foundation. Every year I’m out of school, I realize how formative my Willamette years were.”
The fact that there were only a half dozen women in her class didn’t faze her. “I was raised in a family of three girls and my parents always assumed we could do anything,” she says. “Growing up, we had nurses’ outfits and cowgirl outfits, but we also had firemen and policemen outfits. I never thought I wouldn’t be able to do something because I’m a woman. I always thought I’d have an advantage because I’m me.”
After earning her JD and completing a year’s internship at the Multnomah County district attorney’s office, it came as a shock when the Anchorage D.A.’s office wouldn’t hire her because she was a woman. So she went to work at Hughes Thorsness, et al. where she met her mentor, Richard Gantz. “The State of Alaska lost perhaps an effective prosecutor, but my decision to go into private practice at my father’s firm was great,” she says. “Sometimes things we can’t do create new opportunities.”
Hughes worked at the firm for 20 years, practicing administrative and regulatory law, telecommunications law and labor law. She served on the Alaska Bar Association’s Board of Governors and, at age 34, she was its president. She says being a lawyer in Alaska gave her opportunities some lawyers never have. As a young attorney, she represented RCA Alascom, the state’s long lines carrier, in a major rate case. “I didn’t have a clue what a rate case was,” she says. “The people at RCA Corporation knew that I was a woman (from my name), but they didn’t know how young I was. In my mid-20’s, I was doing work that would normally be done by a 45-year-old lawyer.”
She won an 87 percent rate increase for RCA Alascom, which led to her representation of dozens of other national and multi-national communications companies. Then, at the height of her career at the firm, she accepted an appointment as Anchorage’s municipal attorney. It was a job that suited her multi-tasking style. “It was fabulous because the Municipality of Anchorage governs so many things – telephone, electric, garbage, an airport. I was general counsel for the many businesses we operated as well as the general government of the Municipality of Anchorage.”
Nearly six years later, with the death of her sister from breast cancer, her aging parents and grandchildren demanding more of her time and her community commitments taking their toll, Hughes took a well-deserved break. It didn’t last long. Less than a year later, she re-joined her father’s firm Of Counsel handling public policy matters. The governor of Alaska appointed her to the Board of Regents for the University of Alaska in 2002. She also took on running her ex-boss’ mayoral campaign. She continued serving as a Willamette trustee and chairing the board for the Sisters of Providence’s Foundation. “Even though I wasn’t working full time, my plate was full,” she says.
Then, two years ago, she was asked to be part of a radio program, “Hometown Talk,” on KBYR 700AM. It’s become one of her passions. In April, she launched her own radio show, “Profile Alaska with Mary Hughes.” It’s a casual, conversation-style show in which Mary talks with notable Alaskans like U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, in whose re-election campaign Hughes is intimately involved. “I want listeners to know people as I know them,” she says. “I want to acquaint Alaskans with Alaska the way I see it.”
So what’s the next adventure for Hughes? She’s taking on shorter-term projects and getting more involved with her husband’s health and fitness club business, The Alaska Club, a statewide organization of 13 clubs. She recently produced a DVD on sexual harassment for the club. “I probably have at least four careers left in me,” she says, smiling broadly. “If people looked at my career, they’d think it was all planned out. But I didn’t make many plans. Opportunities occurred because I did my very best each and every day. If I’ve made a little difference, that’s what I can walk away with.”
Don’t expect Hughes to walk away anytime soon. “There are so many more things that can make a difference for the people of the state of Alaska. I’m not done yet.”
Mary K. Hughes JD’74
“If people looked at my career, they'd think it was all planned out. But I didn't make many plans. Opportunities occurred because I did my very best each and every day.”