Mother’s decision sets son on right path
by Marguerite Cline, columnist
November 22, 2013 01:18 AM | 776 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was David Martin who introduced me to Elvin Hughes, his co-worker at Georgia Veterans Cemetery. It took only a few minutes for me to know Elvin was a very special person.

Most of us have heard “mother knows best.” That was true with Elvin’s mother. When he was a child, his family lived downstairs in the house where his aunt and her family lived upstairs. His cousin took piano lessons. Elvin hung around watching and listening.

His mother decided for him to begin piano lessons when he was about 6 years old. She got him a briefcase for carrying his music. As you might expect, some boys in his neighborhood called him a sissy.

Ms. Hughes demanded that Elvin practice. If he did not, there was a spanking waiting for him. His aunt insisted he learn to play every song in the church hymnal. He did that, too.

But he hated piano recitals. During one recital he was early on the program. Since his mother got there late and did not get to hear him perform, he had to do it again.

Elvin credits his piano teacher for teaching him more than music. Disciplining himself to practice and sticking with things he did not want to do were two of them.

In elementary school he wanted to learn to play a saxophone, but he did not get a chance. The band director ran out of saxophones before he got to Elvin. He did get to play the drums.

His music lessons and practicing paid off big-time. After high school, he got a full college scholarship and was off to DePauw University in Indiana.

Next, Elvin decided he would join the Air Force. First, he auditioned for the Air Force Band. After he was guaranteed he would be a member, he enlisted.

In the band he was assigned to play percussion, including xylophone, chimes and timpani.

Like most everyone who goes into military service, he was off to boot camp. Describing boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base, he summed it up by saying he never wanted to go back.

The band toured from two to four weeks per month. Elvin explains that the band is a tool of the public relations station. They played in Guam, Korea and Taiwan.

At times, the band was performing to boost the morale of the troops. Some concerts were designed to spread goodwill. The 60-member band could break down into small groups. Where needed they would send a jazz band or a five person combo.

They played a wide range of popular music. The music of the Allman Brothers and Blood, Sweat and Tears were favorites of the times. Some programs were excerpts from “Phantom of the Opera” and “West Side Story.”

Often they played at ceremonies. When an ambassador from another county arrived, the band was part of the welcoming party. At those occasions, they not only played our national anthem, they played the national anthem of the country of the arriving ambassador, too.

At least three times while Elvin was a member of the Air Force Band, he played for the president of the United States at the time including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. At the request of the vice chief of staff’s assistants, the band performed at the Pentagon. Often, they played for parties at the Officer’s Club.

While at Robins Air Force Base, Elvin met his future wife, Bernetia Miller. She had been a vocalist since her early teens singing with a band that performed along the Eastern coast.

The couple married and now have four children and 10 grandchildren. While none of them are musicians, they do appreciate music.

When he was not on the road, Elvin took courses to improve himself and to enable him to be promoted in rank. After 10 years in the Air Force, he was given administrative duties for the band. Since his work included purchasing instruments and doing other things for the band, he put to use some of the things he had learned in those classes like acquisition and purchasing.

After 26 years, Elvin retired from the Air Force. That did not mean he retired from working.

He went back to college for a degree in music education. Among other things, he worked as the director of a middle school orchestra. Joking, he says he learned then there is something worse than having a violin out of tune. It is having six violins out of tune.

Now working with families who bring their loved ones to be buried at Georgia National Cemetery, Elvin is doing what he likes most — helping others.

As David Martin described Elvin Hughes, “He’s a gem.”

And those who know David from his work at the Justice Center, the Northside-Cherokee Conference Center and now the Georgia Veterans Cemetery know he is a gem, too.

Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.

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