December 2, 2021

‘Shocking not to see him’

Downtown icon Tom Hughes died of pneumonia last week

You may not have known his name or much about him, but there’s a good chance if you spent time in Cortland, you knew of Tom Hughes.

Throughout the week, he would meander up and down Main Street in his wheelchair, stopping at his favorite restaurant or making the turn onto Tompkins Street to go to the Cortland YMCA.

“Tom came in every day,” said Suzanne Searle, membership services specialist at the YMCA. “He’d work out for exactly two hours. He worked hard, harder than anyone I know.”

Hughes lived in Cortland for 15 years. He was self-sufficient, not letting many people help him, living life the way he wanted until last week, said his mother Pamela Hughes.

He died Nov. 27 at age 52 of complications of pneumonia in his sister’s home on Long Island, his mother said. A funeral Mass was Friday at St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Bellmore.

Just before he died, he was watching television with his mother, sister and nieces.

“He was where he should have been, with his family,” Pamela Hughes said.

At 24 years old, Tom Hughes endured a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident, his mother said. He lived with his parents for some time before eventually moving to Cortland.

During his time in the city, he found several passions.

“He exercised six days a week,” Pamela Hughes said. “Rain, shine or snow.”

He would exit the exercise area, realize he can still work out for another 20 minutes and go back in, Searle said.

Hughes liked eating at local food joints, Searle said. He would always tell her what to try at different places.

“He was actually the reason I tried so many things,” she said. His favorite place to go was Indulge, on Main Street.

“Tom came in every day, sometimes twice a day,” said Indulge owner Lisa Crupe. “It’s shocking to not see him here.”

Hughes’ sister, Christine Rocke, paid for his meals at Indulge and kept in touch with Crupe to get updates on how her brother was doing.

Crupe was the one who told Rocke that Hughes was not doing well one day, leading Rocke to take him to the doctor and back to her home on Long Island, where he died.

“He was always funny, always had jokes,” Crupe said.

Hughes had been coming to Indulge for about two years. It was a friendly, social place for him, Crupe said. He always enjoyed talking with people.

“It was a place for him to get a meal, be warm and comfortable,” Crupe said. His usual order was an iced tea, a scone and any macaroni dish.

Along with exercising and food, one of Hughes’ biggest passions was going to church. Every Sunday, he would be at the Grace Christian Fellowship church in Cortlandville, said Cortland resident Robert Vidulich.

Vidulich met Hughes a few months ago in a Bible study group, one thing Hughes liked to frequently attend. Hughes was always chipper, he said, and liked to establish relationships with people at the church.

Although Hughes lived most of his life using a wheelchair and lived self-sufficiently, Pamela Hughes said her son still had a dream: to run again.

“Tom told me once that he wanted to be able to run when he got to heaven,” Vidulich said.