William J. Hughes, a former congressman who represented South Jersey for two decades and later served as U.S. Ambassador to Panama, has died, his family announced Thursday.
Hughes, an Ocean City resident, was 87.
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“Hughes’ passing will leave a huge void in the lives of all those he touched during his long and honorable career,” read a statement from his family.
Hughes, a Democrat, was elected to Congress in 1974 and represented New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District until retiring in 1995. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Ambassador to Panama in 1995, serving in the position until 1998.
A major figure in South Jersey, Hughes is particularly remembered for his work on the environment, including bills to ban ocean dumping and successfully fighting a proposal to build floating nuclear power plants off the New Jersey coast. He also helped secure millions of dollars in federal funds for land acquisition in South Jersey’s Pinelands.
He chaired the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime for nine years, and then the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and Judicial Administration.
Hughes championed the restoration of rail service between Atlantic City and Philadelphia and two major institutions in South Jersey bear his name: The William J. Hughes Technical Center at Atlantic City’s airport — an FAA test facility; and the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
Gov. Phil Murphy called Hughes a “New Jersey icon.”
“He was a public school product and a Rutgers graduate two times over. As a prosecutor in Cape May, he fought to keep residents safe. As a respected Congressman, he fought to protect the Jersey Shore from polluters and the Pinelands from development,” Murphy said in a statement. “As U.S. Ambassador to Panama under President Clinton, he served our nation on the world stage. Tammy and I are saddened to learn of his passing, and send our condolences to his children and their families, and to all who knew him and called him a friend.”
Hughes‘ wife, Nancy, died in 2018. He is survived by four children, 10 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.