Jim Keenan

He treated you like a comrade, and you always knew where he stood on matters involving family. He held his family dear to him, and he hoped you shared his sentiment.

Jim+Keenan

Sean Hughes: Our Coxswain and Dear Friend

Whether savoring the azure expanse of the Chesapeake, throttle wide open and his beautiful family in tow, or supporting LM Crew along the banks of the murky Schuylkill, Sean drew unbridled joy from life on the water.

In 2019, Aces Crew bestowed deep honor upon our seasoned oarsman by naming a sleek, white shell after him. He beamed, standing proudly in front of the shell at Boathouse Row, flanked by eleven sturdy and admiring rowers. And an image comes to mind: if all of his LM admirers, past and present, were in this picture with him, we would extend to the edge of the parking lot and down the hill, spreading out widely along the water’s edge well beyond the frame of the picture.

***

Our oars lie still now. Tears make us bleary-eyed and blind. We have lost our beloved coxswain, Sean Hughes, the consummate maverick, and we cherish the time we had in the boat with him, rowing to the rhythm and to the cadence of his beat.

***

A boat is a sensitive thing, an eight-oared shell, and if it isn’t let go free, it doesn’t work for you.

Sean valued the vision of each teacher in his building. He empowered each of us to think, conceptualize, and implement—all to benefit the students we served. He would invariably stop by your room with that charismatic “Yo, what’s up?” He created space for you to freely fill in your thoughts. He shared his ideas with you, too. Then, upon exiting, he hit you with the one-liner that always left you laughing.

***

Herein lies the secret of successful crews: Their ‘swing,’ that fourth dimension of rowing, which can only be appreciated by an oarsman who has rowed in a swinging crew, where the run is uncanny and the work of propelling the shell a delight.

Sean knew and appreciated the talents of his students and staff, particularly when the art of teaching and learning was in session. Repeatedly, the entirety of LM found its groove during his tenure. Students were learning in classrooms and the pool, performing in arts spaces, in math and science competitions, in sports matchups with Central League rivals, behind the wheel, and in the world of work. If seeking him in his office at the height of an LM swing, forget about it: no one home. But … you could find Sean roaming with a smile: conversing in the cafeteria, observing in a classroom, fist-bumping in the hallway, or spectating in the Bryant Gymnasium, the Natatorium, or the confines of Arnold Field. We hit our “swing” because he never micromanaged students or teachers. He trusted our learning community, and our learning community trusted him.

***

The ability to yield, to bend, to give way, to accommodate, […] was sometimes a source of strength in [people] as well as in wood, so long as it was helmed by inner resolve and by principle.

Each of Sean’s admirers derived partly from his compassion for us all. He treated you like a comrade, and you always knew where he stood on matters involving family. He held his family dear to him, and he hoped you shared his sentiment. Secretly, he knew the best instruction or student production came when knowing one’s family was safe and secure. So he never interrogated. He simply wished you the best and a speedy return. When the pandemic made our lives complex, he countered with simplicity: meet with your classes and PLCs. Take care of yourself and your family. Nothing more, nothing less.

***

When you were done and walked away from the boat, you had to feel that you left a piece of yourself behind in it forever, a bit of your heart.

Sean’s selfless commitment to students and staff transformed LM, leaving such an indelible mark in our lives. And after some time … perhaps after the cycle of seasons … our oars will thrust anew with a blue sky overhead and the sun glimmering golden in the water leading up to our LM shell, and Sean’s incredible legacy will burn ever brightly in our minds, in our hearts, and in our souls.

*Quoted statements from George Yeoman Pocock as quoted in Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat.

LM Crew showcases a new white shell named after Sean Hughes to him at Boathouse Row. | Photo courtesy of Jim Keenan
close

The Merionite Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest news in your inbox, every issue.