Joan Hughes, teachers' advocate, dies at 59

When she wasn't negotiating for teachers in the Greenwich, Conn., school district, Joan Hughes could often be found tending the tulips and tomatoes that thrived in the garden of her Port Jefferson home or baking a batch of brownies for her husband's students.

Hughes, who worked as a representative for the Connecticut Education Association, negotiating labor contracts on behalf of the union, died of a pulmonary embolism on Sunday. She was 59.

Her husband, Jonathan T. Hughes, said she was devoted to her family, her pets and her high-pressure job.

"She knew how to close a deal," said Hughes, whom she met when he was an assistant superintendent in Connecticut.

Joan Hughes was born July 3, 1953 in the Bronx, and moved with her family to Pembroke, Mass., at an early age, her husband said.

She attended Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., received a master's in education from Lesley College in Cambridge, and studied labor relations and collective bargaining at Harvard.

Hughes taught English at a Massachusetts middle school for 12 years before deciding that "teaching Treasure Island for another year was not what she wanted to do," Jonathan Hughes said.

In 1985, she began working for the Connecticut Education Association. She met her future husband as he sat across the bargaining table at the school district in Darien, Conn.

Jonathan Hughes, an assistant superintendent at the time, said he didn't consider asking his adversary out until he left the position and his former superintendent suggested the two get together for a dinner date.

"I fell in love with her that night," said Hughes, now director of the doctoral program at St. John's College in Oakdale.

The couple married in 1993 and moved to Port Jefferson three years later.

Her husband said Joan Hughes delighted in hosting friends, never letting her husband's students leave their home without a plate of brownies.

"My wife talked to anyone and everyone," he said. "She had that kind of personality that you would gravitate toward."

Joan Hughes also doted on her cats and dogs, each named for a favorite musician, and enjoyed couponing, golf and traveling.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by two sisters -- Judy Mason and Janet Mottola, both of Bluffton, S.C. Hughes was predeceased by a brother, Joseph Mottola Jr.

A funeral service was held Friday at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket. She was to be cremated.

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