Marilyn Hughes, beloved in Grand Crossing, dead at 86

“The whole block was a family,” said Eddie Foster, her neighbor and friend since 1973. “Because of her, this block was a block of love.”

SHARE Marilyn Hughes, beloved in Grand Crossing, dead at 86
Marilyn Hughes, a resident at 73rd and Kenwood for 60 years, made her block a “family.”

Marilyn Hughes, who lived in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood for 60 years, made her block a “family.”

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Everyone on her block knew “Mama Hughes.”

For 60 years, Marilyn Hughes lived in the same home in the 7300 block of South Kenwood Avenue and owned several other properties in Greater Grand Crossing.

“We were family —the whole block was a family,” said Eddie Foster, her neighbor and friend since 1973. “Because of her, this block was a block of love.”

Born Marilyn Jackson in 1932 in Cincinnati, Ms. Hughes moved to Bronzeville with her family as a child. She had four brothers, including her twin, and a younger sister.

Dianne Wallace, her younger sister by 13 years, said that compared to her twin, Melvin, Ms. Hughes was “the smallest,” but also “the strongest.”

One sign of that strength: When their mother was at work, Ms. Hughes took it upon herself to look after Wallace at home.

“That was the reason why everybody thought that she was my mother,” Wallace said.

When Ms. Hughes met Clarence K. “C.K.” Johnson at Phillips High School, she left school married him and had their first child —all in 1949.

Marilyn Hughes with sons (from left) David, Clarence, Melvin and Steve Johnson.

Marilyn Hughes with her sons in 1974. From left: David, Clarence, Melvin and Steve Johnson.

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Ms. Hughes and Johnson settled in Bronzeville, and eventually had four sons — Melvin, Clarence, Steven and David.

“She was dedicated to her family and that her sons would be educated,” Wallace said.

“She did what she needed ... to take care of family,” said Melvin Johnson, her eldest son. “She pushed through whatever.”

Whatever she had to do for her family, Ms. Hughes did with resilience.

In 1955, the family’s Bronzeville home burned down, and they moved to Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project.

Four years later, the family moved to Kenwood Avenue.

Marilyn Hughes in 1984.

Marilyn Hughes in 1984.

Provided photo

Though Ms. Hughes and Johnson divorced in 1969, little could hold back what Steven and Melvin call her “strong-willed” and “stubborn” spirit.

“After she divorced, she became stronger —she didn’t fall back. She did what she had to do. … She wasn’t sad, she kept doing what she was doing and did it on her own,” said Steven Johnson.

In the divorce, Ms. Hughes acquired Johnson’s most successful dry cleaning store, David’s Cleaners, which she operated for a few years.

After closing that business, Ms. Hughes worked in sales and customer service at the Chicago Park District, and at her ex-husband’s insurance agency, Beneficial Insurance.

She married her second husband, John W. Hughes Jr., in 1985. When he died in 1998, Ms. Hughes acquired his property near 71st Street and Racine Avenue, and began renting it out.

Ms. Hughes eventually acquired four other properties, all on her block.

Marilyn Hughes with her second husband, the late John W. Hughes Jr.

Marilyn Hughes with her second husband, the late John W. Hughes Jr., in 1989.

Provided photo

One property was given to her by a neighbor Ms. Hughes looked after in his final days. He was ill and had no other living relatives or friends.

Ms. Hughes was compassionate, yet principled.

“Whoever you were, you’d come down, she’d talk to you … and tell [you] how [you] needed to do things,” Melvin Johnson said. “But she would also demand that things be done right. Anyone coming in could not just take advantage of her.”

Venus Clark, Ms. Hughes’s regular housekeeper since March 2018, said Ms. Hughes always told her to “never look down on anyone because you never know where they come from.”

Her favorite things were a good cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich with grape jelly in the morning. Besides her family, Ms. Hughes loved the roses in her small garden and her two dogs. She also had an affinity for shopping.

Ms. Hughes died Monday evening in her Grand Crossing home; she had been in ill health for some time.

“She was strong even ’til the end. She kept on holding on, thinking about her boys, [saying] ‘What are the boys going to do?’” Clark said. “I felt like she was holding on because of it.”

Ms. Hughes is survived by three of her four sons. Clarence Johnson died in 2017.

Survivors also include eight grandchildren, many great-grandchildren and daughters-in-law Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and Angela Johnson.

Visitation is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 7838 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Services are at 10 a.m. Saturday at Bryn Mawr Community Church, 7000 S. Jeffery Ave.

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