Nancy L. Hughes, a longtime resident of Lake Forest, Illinois, passed away at age 68 on September 15. A devoted wife, mother, and grandmother with a particularly sharp skill for making a house a home-whether a family farm in Harvard, Illinois; a desert getaway in Scottsdale, Arizona; or in several suburban homes along her beloved North Shore of Chicago-it is perhaps fitting that even in the building in which she passed, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, there was a pavilion dedicated to her by name, along with that of her husband, writer and filmmaker John Hughes.
Born in Chicago on April 22, 1951, Nancy was a resident of Northbrook, Illinois in her youth, where she met fellow Glenbrook North High School student John Wilden Hughes, Jr., in 1967. Three years later, they were married-Nancy at 19, John at 20. After they both worked a series of odd jobs, John found success in Chicago advertising, eventually gaining full employment as a creative director before transitioning into screenwriting, telling stories comprised of observations from the young couple's lives and shared experiences in towns like Northbrook, Glencoe, and Northfield, and the young people they championed and took under their wing as they raised a family of their own. Eventually, the affinity they shared for their community was known around the world.
In 1988, Hughes released the semi-autobiographical She's Having a Baby, for which the final credit reads "Inspiration: Nancy Hughes." Though firmly set in the North Shore, the script was written in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the Hughes family lived from 1984–88. The film's emotional climax revolves around a harrowing but ultimately healthy birth at Evanston Hospital, as it was then known, the same building where both of Nancy's sons, John III and James, were born.
Set to Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work," a track personally commissioned by Hughes, the sequence exemplifies a moment where music tells a story that images alone can't adequately express. It was fitting, considering Nancy's life was steeped in music. Whether songs blasted indoors or on poolside boom-boxes, friends and frustrated neighbors quickly learned her favorites. A music lover in high school, she found her partner in John, already a seasoned collector of import and rare records. Together they attended an astonishing range of rock concerts in the 60s, spent long nights in Chicago blues and reggae clubs in the 70s and 80s, and venues across the country and beyond in the years to come. However, listening to music at home remained a priority, as her favorite albums were the soundtrack to marathon card games, while friends of all ages angled for a spot at Nancy's table. Time was shared not just with family, but with friends who stretched back to grade school. Welcome were the black sheep of the neighborhood in need of companionship, as well as rising stars of Hollywood in need of stability.
The family's move to Los Angeles in 1984 was predated by a short stint in Scottsdale, Arizona. The state was familiar to John and Nancy, who'd spent a portion of their late teens living on a shoestring budget in Tucson, before ultimately settling in Glencoe in the early 1970s. Following John's death in 2009, Nancy returned to Scottsdale, in 2011, and quickly established a wintertime oasis for herself and a steady stream of visitors, most notably her niece, Lyra Waggoner, and husband Josh and daughters Vela and Carina.
Nancy's parents, Henry and Naomi Ludwig, were a constant presence in her life and that of her younger sister, Janice, who passed away in Illinois in 2000, an event that shook the family and strengthened their resolve to remain even more connected moving forward. Henry and Naomi, who wed in Chicago in 1947, remained married for more than 65 years. John's untimely death in 2009 prevented the couple from reaching their 40th anniversary, a particularly difficult circumstance for Nancy to cope with as she faced life in his absence.
For the subsequent decade, Nancy was deeply committed to the long-term health and care of her parents. She held vigil over Henry as he passed from complications from dementia at age 90 in 2013, and had welcomed Naomi into her Lake Forest home for the final months of her life, before dying in her sleep on September 5th, 2019. The night after the services for Naomi, who was buried beside her husband and daughter at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Nancy fell ill. For five days, she was treated in the intensive care unit at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, before succumbing to complications from a blood infection, surrounded by friends and loved ones, on Sunday, September 15.
In her final years, Nancy was a dedicated philanthropist, especially in her hometown of Lake Forest, donating significantly to the aforementioned Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, where the John & Nancy Hughes Pavilion now stands, along with the Hughes Auditorium at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, which opened in 2005. She was particularly committed to the renovation of Lake Forest's Gorton Community Center, namely the John & Nancy Hughes Theater, a state-of-the-art facility that regularly hosts lectures, screenings, and more. Other recent projects include the John & Nancy Hughes Clubhouse at the Deerpath Golf Course and investment in Sibylle and Robert Redford's production The Way of the Rain at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.
On September 14, the day before she passed, Lake Forest residents gathered for the dedication of the Hughes Gateway at Forest Park Beach, rebuilt with Nancy's assistance after flooding destroyed the previous entrance. The site is just blocks from her former home on Westminster Avenue, which she donated to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in 2014. The home was where her family had lived from 1988–2009, and where her husband wrote Home Alone. In death, the couple is united once again.
Nancy is survived by her son John III, daughter-in-law Ruta, and grandchildren Katelyn, Wil, and Livia; son James, daughter-in-law Tracy, and grandson Henry. Services were held in Lake Forest on Saturday, September 21, and Nancy was laid to rest at Lake Forest Cemetery. Donations can be made in her name, Nancy L. Hughes, to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Info: Wenban Funeral Home (847) 234-0022 or www.wenbanfh.com
Published by Chicago Tribune from Sep. 24 to Sep. 26, 2019.