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Remembering my father, Alexander Hughes

by Kelly Perez

Thirty years ago Claremont lost a friend that many would consider the city’s biggest cheerleader, Alexander (Alex) Hughes. In memory of Alex, who many Claremonters remember but some may not know, I would like to share who he was, what he did and why there is a building with his name on it.

He was referred to by some as Mr. Hughes, but to most he was simply known as Alex. When you met him you may have walked in a stranger, but always walked out a loyal friend.

A graduate of University of Southern California and an avid fan of Trojan football, Alex came to Claremont in 1966 from Fontana when he was hired as the director of student activities at Claremont High School. Two years later he was named principal.

Following his time at CHS, he became an administrator in personnel services, eventually leading to his position of associate superintendent. In a Los Angeles Times article dated December 5, 1968, Alex was praised for his ability to calm critics with his plea of “let’s work together to solve our problems.” This was just one of the many times that Alex’s calm demeanor and service to others was made evident in the city of Claremont, where he would go on to serve for 33 years.

Alex’s first desire was to provide the best education to young students of Claremont but his commitment to the community was vast as well. Service organizations that benefited from Alex’s deep desire to work for the betterment of all included but were not limited to the American Red Cross, Claremont Community School of Music, Pomona Valley Human Resources Consortium and Services Center for Independent Living (SCIL). He also served on the architectural and planning commissions, was elected to city council and became mayor of the city he loved.

Alex’s evident devotion to service did not end there. Faith was important to him as well, including being a founding member of the Claremont Young Men’s Christian Association. Additionally, he was a ruling elder at Claremont Presbyterian Church, where he shared his angelic voice in choir weekly. He also served on many committees of the San Gabriel Presbytery.

Rotary International’s well known motto is Service above Self and this is something Alex lived up to each and every day. He was a past president and a Paul Harris Fellow for the Claremont Rotary Club and as part of his continued support of CHS he was quite involved with the Rotary Interact and theater clubs. One of his greatest joys was dressing up as Santa Claus for the Rotary holiday parties, and to visit schools in CUSD. In fact, one time he visited his son’s preschool and was almost outed by his godson because Santa had the same USC class ring as Alex. That didn’t deter him, as he loved seeing the joy on children’s faces when Santa arrived and he enjoyed spreading holiday cheer all over town.

As a humanitarian, Alex made it his mission to ensure that every person had a voice regardless of their social standing, political views, religion, age or ability. He made sure the city and school district worked together to make Claremont a preferred city for anyone who lived or worked here.

Thirty years ago, on December 4, 1989 in the middle of the night Alex Hughes—aka Santa, aka Mr. Claremont—passed away of a heart attack. 

I acknowledge and share Alex’s service to the beautiful city of Claremont and all of its residents, because there has never been anyone else like him nor will there be. Claremont honored this great man by purchasing the former Danbury School and naming it the Alexander Hughes Community Center in memoriam in 2001.

There are probably many current Claremont residents who didn’t know Alex, but may wonder who he was or what he did to receive such an honor.

So next time you attend a community meeting at the center or attend a class or activity, drop-off your child or stop to vote or to use the cooling station or even when you just drive by, please know that the man behind the name was a pillar in our community, a friend to all and an enemy to none.

Most importantly, he was a family man—husband to Anita, and father to John, James and me, Kelly.

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