Dr. David Watson Hughes (1944 – 2021)

David shown with the magnificent Mander-Skinner organ of the Princeton University Chapel in the USA

We had three contributions for this obituary of David Hughes, beginning with this one from one of his Austin Apprentice contempories, Derek Reid.

I first met David in September 1960 when we both started an Engineering Apprenticeship at Longbridge.

I believe he told me he attended Kings Norton Grammar School where he had an interest in classics, taking exams in Latin and Greek; I remember thinking it seemed at odds with an engineering career.

He played the organ at St. Agnes Church in Cotteridge both when he was at school and during his apprenticeship. He was also able to play the Bournville Carillion, which he once took my wife and me up to see and hear at close quarters.

I got to know David much better when we both went to Gosta Green College of Advanced Technology (later Aston University) in 1962 and we became good friends. He graduated in 1966 with a 1st. Class Honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and went to St. John’s College Cambridge the following year to read for a Ph.D , which he was duly awarded.

After he obtained his doctorate he worked in Sweden for two years, then he moved to London to take up a post in the MOD procurement section.

Whilst in London he met Nevsal, a Turkish lady working for the BBC World Service as a producer, who he later married. David and Nevsal went on to have 2 sons, Thomas and Edward. Later he became a proud Grandfather.

David worked his way through the ranks at the MOD and then left to take up a senior job at British Aerospace ending up as MD of their Sales Division.

After retiring he and Nevsal built a villa in southern Turkey where they spent time each year but always retained their house in London.

David was a quiet, gentle person but extremely determined and conscientious with a keen but dry sense of humour. He was rather conservative in outlook and was what is known as a ‘gentleman’.

Another of David’s`fellow Austin Apprentices, Cedric Talbot wrote:

When I first met David I realised he was going to go far, as he had talents beyond those of the usual engineering apprentice. At the age of 18 he was already the organist and choirmaster at St Agnes parish church in Cotteridge. He had a wicked sense of humour and once told me that a couple had asked him to suggest suitable hymns for their wedding. “Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow” sprang to mind, but he thought better of saying it.

There were only three of us sponsored by the Austin Motor Co on the Mech Eng degree at Aston University in 1962.  David was undoubtedly the smartest and most dedicated of us and was determined to get a First Class degree. He lived at home with his parents while Derek Reid and I shared digs.  For a time we all commuted to Gosta Green in the middle of Birmingham in my A35, five days a week. Not for us a few months off backpacking around Europe. We were, after all, indentured apprentices and while the winters were spent at Aston the summers were on the shop floor in our green overalls.

During one Physics lecture in our first year at the crumbling Victorian pile of the Matthew Boulton Technical College, the lecturer was attempting to demonstrate resonance using a tuning fork and a violin string. He triumphed at getting it right until David marched up to the front saying “Not quite – you’re a fifth out” and then with his usual self-confidence, adjusted the string to perfection.

In our factory term in the final year he was assigned to the Forge in the North Works. They had a continuing problem with the piston rods breaking on the ancient steam hammers and David set about trying to explain why this happened, applying his newly acquired theoretical knowledge. He came up with a series of complicated equations which modelled the stresses and so on, which might have been bang on but were quite incomprehensible to the foreman who had probably been there since the days of Lord Austin.  When it was my turn in the Forge the foreman told me that the open side of the shop faced North and the icy winds that blew in were chilling the hot piston rods, causing them to crack.  I reckon they were both right in their own way.

David got his First Class Honours Degree and was then accepted by St John’s College Cambridge for a Ph D. Having received the Doctorate, of which he was rightly proud, he was offered a position for two years with a turbine manufacturer in Uppsala. Thinking this might be in Africa, he asked if he would require tropical kit. It is of course in Sweden. 

On his return to London he suggested that a holiday in Sweden would be a good idea and we drove to his former home north of Stockholm in my Triumph Dolomite. Staying with his Swedish friends was great fun, albeit with a few short periods of frustration on my part as David argued politics with them in fluent Swedish.

At the final weekend we were invited to a party on a small island in the Baltic. After a memorable evening on the shore with copious supplies of beer and sheep roasting on a spit, our Swedish friends broke into song. The moment we were dreading came as they announced that the British visitors would now regale them with our national melodies. As I desperately tried to remember the words of ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Rule Britannia’, David came to the rescue with a spirited rendition of  ‘Oh, Sir Jasper!’ which saved our face and brought the house down !

Later on I had the honour of being Best Man at David’s wedding to his beautiful bride Nevsal, a charming lass who spoke excellent English and was a broadcaster in the Turkish language section of the BBC World Service. They had two sons, Thomas and Edward.

David went on to a very successful career with senior positions at the Ministry of Defence and BAe Systems. We kept in touch over the 40 plus years of my expatriate life, but only recently in retirement have we managed to spend some good times together. I shall miss my old friend very much.

We are indebted to David’s wife Nevsal, for the following details of his remarkable career and musical achievements

 David worked his way through the ranks at the Ministry of Defence. After working as Director of Helicopter Programmes at MOD – Procurement Executive, in 1996 he moved to DESO (Defence Exports Support Organisation of the Ministry of Defence) and took up the post of Regional Director Asia Pasific. In 1999 he left  the Ministry of Defence and joined GEC plc -latterly BAE Systems (at merger) as MD of Market Development and then as Executive Vice President.  Later on, he  moved on to BAE System plc Avionics Group, and worked as Executive Vice President Electronics Warfare Systems. He retired in the summer of 2006 as Executive Vice President Helicopter Systems.

While pursuing his career in the MOD David worked as  Organist and Director of Music at St.Edmund’s Church in Northwood, Middx where he built up the choir and worked on replacing the existing organ with a more powerful Norman and Beard organ.  After devoting almost 20 years he left St Edmund`s in 2000 following a move to south London where he assisted the organist at St Peter`s Church in Clapham from time to time.

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