The death of Harold Everett Hughes marks the passing of one of the true pioneers in the field of alcohol and other drug abuse. All who work in the field owe a debt of gratitude to Harold Hughes -- both for his accomplishments and for his example. More than a just a public figure, he has been described by friends and colleagues as ďa life force.Ē He was an extra-ordinary man with an extraordinary career.
In a time of rapid change for the field, we seldom take time to reflect on its history. We assume that our national and state governments have a degree of interest in prevention and treatment, as a matter of public policy, and that this interest needs only to be strengthened and given a higher profile. We seldom think of a time when there was no such policy, when there was no reference to substance abuse on the public agenda.
Harold Hughesí most frequently cited achievement was the passage of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act of 1970, (P.L. 91-616), which came to be known as "The Hughes Act." That legislation established the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and, for the first time, made formula grants available to the states for the development of community-based programs.
Also included in the Hughes Act were requirements for state planning, incentives for hospitals to admit alcoholics, and confidentiality of patient records. Before 1970, the only federal commitment was a mere $4 million for treatment grants, and even that was in jeopardy as a result of Nixon Administration cost-cutting. Drunk driving had gotten some attention, but hardly in the context of a comprehensive view of the effects of alcohol on society.
To be sure, the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous had already brought help and hope to alcoholics for more than two decades, but it took a Harold Hughes to make alcohol abuse and dependence public issues, to go beyond the program of attraction, of personal recovery, and make alcohol abuse and dependence matters of public health, welfare and safety.
Noteworthy as that may be in the history of our field, even more remarkable was how a freshman Senator, a man with origins in a small town in Iowa, with only one year of college education and with a personal history of alcoholism that drove him to the point of suicide, came to sponsor the landmark legislation.
In his autobiography (Harold E. Hughes: The Man From Ida Grove, A Senatorís Personal Story, with Dick Schneider, Chosen Books Publishing Co., 1979), Hughes chronicles his early years, how he survived rural poverty in the 1930ís, severe alcohol problems, heavy combat in World War II, the post-war years of uncertainty and the political turmoil of the 1960ís, how he went "from the depths of despair to undreamed of honors and service to mankind" (former Minnesota governor Albert Quie).
Readers who are interested in the man Harold Hughes was (or biography in general) will appreciate his depiction of small town family life, his high school all-state football career, his quitting college to get married, his odd-jobs work history, his numerous arrests for drunkenness and brawling, his experiences as an infantry rifleman with Allied forces in North Africa and Italy, his return home as a celebrated veteran, and his years as a truck driver.
How does a truck driver get to be a Senator, and a candidate for the presidency of the United States ? Thatís the question frequently asked by those who know some of the Hughes history. His interest in politics was stirred by involvement in the trucking industry. He became a manager of a local trucking business, and then began organizing independent truckers, "the little guys," in their efforts to get a better deal from the state Commerce Commission. He started the Iowa Better Trucking Bureau and was eventually elected to the State Commerce Commission, which he served from 1958-1962, including a term as its chairman.
All this occurred as "a college drop-out, a drunk with a jail record," in his own words. After going through periods of drinking, sobriety and relapse, it got to the point that, in 1946, his wife filed an order to have him appear before the Ida County Sanity Commission to show cause why he shouldnít be "committed to the state insane asylum as an inebriate." He managed to avoid commitment, but his drinking continued periodically until 1952. Like many others in denial, he rejected AA as irrelevant to his condition.
Then, in 1952, his desperation drove him to the brink of suicide. He describes in some detail how he climbed into a bathtub (to make the mess easier to clean up) with a shotgun and was ready to pull the trigger, when he experienced what may be called a moment of spiritual enlightenment which was to remain a memorable turning point throughout the remainder of this life, and which led him to deep spiritual commitments. He began to study the Bible diligently, develop his prayer life, and even considered a career in the ministry. He also embraced the AA program of recovery and started an AA group in Ida Grove in 1955.
Hughes grew up a Republican in a heavily Republican area, but was persuaded to switch parties. His service on the State Commerce Commission also brought him in contact with the Interstate Commerce Commission and national politics. He was persuaded to run for Governor of Iowa on the Democratic ticket and won in 1963 in a stunning upset.
A major issue in the campaign was legalization of "liquor-by-the-drink." Iowa allowed only beer to be consumed over the bar. Liquor and wine could only be purchased in state liquor stores and "private clubs," and the system was riddled with corruption and general disrespect for the law. Hughes became a proponent of "liquor-by-the-drink," favoring "honesty over hypocrisy," regulation over corruption, and was opposed by owners of taverns and "private clubs." A short time after he was elected, the state adopted a new, more effective system of alcohol control.
Hughes served as Governor from 1962 to 1968. During this time, he continued to reach out, as a Christian and as an alcoholic in recovery, to people still suffering. He established a treatment program in the state and was an effective spokesman for a more enlightened view of the role of alcohol in society. The new treatment program was viewed as an alternative to the state mental hospitals. Hughes writes that the goal was to reach alcoholics "before they reach rock bottom."
His political career also continued to gain strength. He made a speech seconding the nomination of Lyndon Johnson at the 1964 Democratic convention (a decision he came to regret later) and gained national recognition as a progressive governor as well as a promising national figure in the Democratic party. Trade missions abroad, and a tour of Vietnam with other governors, provided him with foreign policy experience.
In his 1964 bid for re-election as governor, the issue of a relapse in 1954 was raised by his opponent, Evan Hultman. In a debate, Hultman charged that Hughesí failure to acknowledge the relapse publicly showed that Hughes lacked integrity. Hughes responded: "I am an alcoholic and will be until the day I die ..... But with Godís help Iíll never touch a drop of alcohol again. Now, can we talk about the issues of this campaign?" According to the Des Moines Register, "The reaction of the crowd was immediate and nearly unanimous." Later, the Register editorialized: "In our opinion, any man or woman who wins that battle and successfully puts the pieces of his or her life back together again deserves commendation, not censure." Hughes won by a landslide.
In 1966, Iowa, like other states, suffered severe Democratic losses, but Hughes survived. It was at that time that his friendship with Bobby Kennedy started, and it was Kennedy who persuaded him to run for a Senate seat. The next years were difficult ones, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, racial unrest in Iowa, and his growing disenchantment with American policy in Vietnam and the leadership of the Johnson administration.
At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hughes was giving a nominating speech for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy when violent demonstrations erupted on the streets of Chicago. As we know, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but Nixon and Agnew won a landslide election victory, as did Republicans all over the country. Hughes, however, won the Senate seat by 4,200 votes.
As a U.S. Senator, Hughes persuaded the Chairman of the Senateís Labor and Public Welfare Committee to establish a Special Sub-committee on Alcoholism and Narcotics, chaired by Hughes himself. This subcommittee, which gave unprecedented attention to the subject, held public hearings on July 23-25, 1969. A number of people in recovery testified, including Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, National Council on Alcoholism founder Marty Mann, and AA co-founder Bill W. In The Man from Ida Grove, Hughes writes that he asked a dozen other well-known people in recovery to present public testimony, but all declined. The hearings were considered a threat to anonymity and sobriety.
Hughes also talked about the need for treatment of drug addiction. He stated that "treatment is virtually nonexistent because addiction is not recognized as an illness." Unfortunately, the hearings, and subsequent events related to alcoholism and addiction, were not given much press attention because the press was more interested in the Vietnam War, poverty, and other critical issues. Legislation creating the National Institute on Drug Abuse was not passed until 1974.
The goal of the 1970 Comprehensive Act, considered a "major milestone" in the nationís efforts to deal with alcohol abuse and alcoholism, was "to help millions of alcoholics recover and save thousands of lives on highways, reduce crime, decrease the welfare rolls, and cut down the appalling economic waste from alcoholism." (The Man from Ida Grove, p. 290)
In early 1970, Hughes began to get press recognition as a "dark horse candidate" for the 1972 presidential election. Columnist David Broder described him as "a very dark horse, but the only Democrat around who excites the kind of personal enthusiasm the Kennedys used to generate."
He seemed to observers to be an almost reluctant candidate, though, and a bit too much of a "mystic" for the Washington press corps. Columnist Mary McGrory wrote of him: "He hates small talk, He likes a heavy rap. He talks about religion, and about drugs and alcohol. He hated being trotted out to cajole financiers wanting to look him over before opening the checkbook. His staff had to prod him to call party chairmen. Hughes preferred a session with the kids at the local treatment centers." The Washington establishment was not too surprised when he dropped out of the race.
They were surprised, though, when he called a press conference on September 5, 1973, and announced that, after a long period of soul-searching, he would retire from the Senate when his term was completed. He said that, for profoundly personal religious reasons" he would seek "a new kind of challenge and spiritual opportunity," and would "continue efforts in alcoholism and drug treatment fields, working for social causes and world peace." He said: "Rightly or wrongly, I believe that I can move more people through a spiritual approach more effectively than I have been able to achieve through the political approach" (AP, 10-25-96)
In 1974, his last full year in the Senate, he succeeded in passing legislation that extended and expanded the original Comprehensive Act. He was invited to the signing of the bill by President Nixon, but "couldnít bring myself to attend, since his administration had fought it every inch of the way." A few months later, Nixon resigned in disgrace, and went to live in seclusion in San Clemente.
After he left the Senate, Hughes devoted himself to lay religious work for two foundations based in Washington, and also founded a religious retreat in Maryland. He had been active in prayer groups while serving in the Senate, and the last few chapters of his autobiography gave this aspect of his life special prominence. He also remained a strong advocate for services to chemically dependent people.
Hughes returned to Iowa in 1981. During the Ď80ís he established several treatment centers, including a womenís treatment program at Des Moines General Hospital and programs in Monticello, and Mount Ayr, Iowa. The programs have closed, due largely to the effects of managed care, he maintained. Although the Hughes organization no longer owns or operates the centers, it is involved in weekend educational programs for people convicted of drunk driving.
Hughes re-appeared on the national scene again in the late 1980ís when he took on the challenge of organizing the millions of Americans who had experienced recovery from alcoholism and other addictions. People in recovery could go beyond their own personal recovery program and act as individual citizens.
As founder and CEO of the organization that became The Society of Americans for Recovery (SOAR), Hughes believed that the voices of recovering people could become a potent force to make recovery "an American priority." SOAR described itself as ďthe voice of the nationís grass-roots recovery community "those in recovery or in hope of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as their families, and other concerned citizens."
In a 1993 speech, Hughes said: "There is no one identifiable political leader in the United States who is a champion in the fight against alcoholism. We have probably the largest political constituency--at least 20 million of us have recovered from this disease and each has drastically affected the lives of four or five others. Thatís about 40 percent of our population. Yet weíre helpless because weíre not united."
Hughes approached this task with the same passion he had given to other causes. In the SOAR USA Bulletin, (Fall, 1993) he quoted Thomas Jefferson: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." To which he added: "There is no greater tyranny against the minds of men that to allow the minds of their children to be destroyed by addiction disease because of our lack of courage and commitment at the time it is needed most. This is the time. If we fail now we will have failed our future. This is the time to climb the mountain, make whatever sacrifice is necessary, and know that our cause is right and just."
Unfortunately, after a promising start, SOARís potential was not realized. Once again, as in 1969, Hughes found great reluctance of recovering people to come forward and speak out. SOAR activists often found that whatever organizational loyalties there were went else-where, and that many recovering people were not likely to participate in a public, political arena, or, if they did, they would do so as individuals, on an ad hoc basis, electing not to be "organized."
When Harold Hughesí health began to fail, he turned the reins of SOAR leadership over to others, and, within two years, the organization experienced financial problems and had to close its Washington office. At this writing, neither SOAR nor a successor organization has been able to develop a really viable and vital national grass-roots organization of people in recovery, or "consumers."
About a year ago, friends in Wisconsin founded the Harold E. Hughes Center on Rural Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, which will reportedly be the repository of Hughes memorabilia. The Center is affiliated with the National Rural Institute on Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University. The Institute has conducted annual conferences and professional development series on alcohol and drug abuse issues for a number of years.
In a telephone interview, his widow, Julianne, said that his health began to deteriorate about eighteen months ago. Despite his poor health, Hughes remained interested in public affairs. He had already cast an absentee ballot in next monthís election. He also maintained phone and fax contact with Congressional leaders. "His body had weakened, but his voice was as strong as ever," she said. A proposal before Congress to establish a new Commission on Alcoholism was discussed, but did not succeed.
According to the account in a Des Moines Register October 25 retrospective, Harold and Julianne went on a picnic on Wednesday, October 23. When they returned home, he decided to take a nap. She discovered later in the evening that he had died in his sleep.
Listed as survivors are his second wife, Julianne; two daughters, Connie and Phyllis, from his first marriage; and three stepchildren.
Among Hughesí many areas of public service: he was President of the World Congress on Alcoholism and Addictions, a member of the board of directors and advisory board of the National Council on Alcoholism, and chair of the first North American Congress on Alcohol and Drug Problems. In 1987 he received the Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest award that the Secretary of Health and Human Services can confer upon a private citizen.
"(He was) the most telling and moving orator Iíve ever heard" - James Flansburg, Register columnist
"As a public speaker Hughes progressed from being painfully awkward to being able to mesmerize an audience. He was at home on a political stump, in a church pulpit, in an academic setting, or over a bean supper in a mission." - Gene Raffensperger, Register staff
"... (He was remembered as ) a political colossus who remade state government in Iowa and left a legacy that still touches the lives of the stateís residents .... the charismatic Hughes will go down in history as one of the stateís greatest governors, friends said .... (He) decided what he thought was best and then used his impressive oratorical skills to shape public opinion. Even though people would disagree with him, they respected his courage." - David Yepsen, Register staff
"He was a very gifted person, and history will show he was a great leader for the state." -Former Iowa governor Robert Ray
"There was a forthrightness to him and openness to him that whether you agreed with him or not, he made you listen" - Wayne Shoemaker, retired Methodist minister
"He walked where angels fear to tread, whether in the Legislature or with some poor soul who had no place to go." - Edward Campbell, longtime Hughes aide
" (His greatest asset was his willingness to) speak forthrightly on a issue regardless of the effect on his future. He didnít color them for his own political benefit." - Robert Fulton, Hughesí lieutenant governor for four years
"He would want to be remembered most for his love of the people and state of Iowa, and for his 50 years of work to provide treatment and recovery for alcoholics and all other drug-addicted persons. He would have celebrated 43 years of sobriety next year." - Phyllis Ewing, Hughesí youngest daughter.
Dr. Paul Wood, President of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), wrote in a message to the organizationís members: "We all will sorely miss him as our leader, mentor, teacher and friend."
NCADD reported that no memorial service was held, at his request. Notes of condolence may be sent to his widow, Julianne (7222 W. St. John Road, Glendale, AZ 85308). Contributions in his memory may be made to the Harold Hughes Center on Rural Issues at the University of Wisconsin (214 Schofield Hall, Eau Claire, WI, 50742- 4404).
Personal Notes: I had the privilege of meeting Harold Hughes on several occasions. The first two were while he was still serving in the United States Senate -- at an NIAAA conference in Washington in June, 1974, and at the North American Congress later that year. I had occasion to talk with him at some length at a Governorís Prayer Breakfast in Springfield, Illinois, on April 7, 1976, when he gave me encouragement and valuable advice on strategies to pursue on state legislation pending at that time. On May 1, 1979 I talked with him briefly at a reception and book-signing in Washington, and then not until 1994, at the SOAR meeting in St. Louis.
On each occasion I was deeply impressed -- with his eloquence, his personal bearing, his warmth, his obvious commitment to the cause we shared, and, yes, his deep, resonant voice ("The Voice," we called him) which literally forced you to listen to what he had to say. I recall his gentle smile when I shared with him that my dad had been a small-time trucker for many years and certainly could have used his advocacy when I was a kid.
Certainly it is no exaggeration to say that Harold Hughes made a unique contribution to public policy and to the quality of life for all Americans. He inspired many with his leadership and example. As Senator Hughes passes from the scene, I canít help wondering whether his vision of a million people in recovery, united in advocacy for prevention and treatment, will ever be realized. And whether we will ever see such leadership in the halls of Congress again.
Adapted from an obituarary by Gerrit DenHartog published in the "A" Team, Missouri Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, P.O. Box 687, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102. Used by permission.