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Mike Hughes, a Canadian pioneer for stuttering support and self-help

This article was originally published in the Winter 2011 issue of CSAVoices.

mike Mike Hughes

I reacted with numbing sadness and disbelief when news arrived that Mike Hughes had passed away on September 22nd, 2010.

Over many years, Mike had been a friend, a supporter and a mentor. We were linked by a common interest in stuttering.

For 22 years Mike Hughes was the Executive Director of Speak Easy Canada Inc., Canada’s first, charitable organization for people who stutter, which he founded in 1984. Based in Saint John, New Brunswick, Mike was already involved in helping those who, like him, stuttered.

After finding relief from severe stuttering for the first time in his life, Mike became the Canadian distributor for the Edinburgh Masker, a masking device that suppressed stuttering, so others could also access this new technology without leaving the country.

People came from far and wide to consult him, some to try the device and others for advice on how to manage their speech-related challenges or on how to help a loved one. His reputation grew and before long Mike could not adequately keep up with the demand on his time and services. After careful consideration and with the support of his wife and children, he left a full-time, paying position with the local power company and started running Speak Easy from his kitchen table.

The Speak Easy mission was to provide information and support to adult stutterers, parents of stuttering children, professionals in the field, and the general public. At its pinnacle, the organization had reached thousands of people and boasted more than 1100 dues-paying members from across the country (Hughes, 2006). Mike brought us together and filled a need that was pertinent to the times.

Mike as Executive Director managed all aspects of the organization: providing information over the phone, developing written information pamphlets, setting up a resource library from which people could borrow (by mail), and publishing a monthly newsletter, Speaking Out, with interesting articles and advice for parents and adults. A web site was eventually added to the mix. With Mike’s support and encouragement local self-help/support groups formed in various communities across the country. National stuttering conferences were also held, in Saint John. Mike did not have the budget to travel himself.

Funding was always a concern. Fortunately Mike was successful in obtaining financial donations, sponsorships and funding grants from various federal and provincial government agencies, corporations, and funding foundations to keep the organization and its work going. There was financial uncertainty and variability with each coming year.

In December 2006, after almost 23 years, Mike published the 275th and final issue of Speaking Out. A prolific and skilled writer, he had produced a monthly newsletter for over 22 years without fail, except for one month when money ran out and it looked as though Speak Easy would cease to operate.

Mike was a selfless pioneer and tenacious advocate for stuttering. I admired his generous spirit, his perseverance, his ability to go it alone and his stubborn dedication to the stuttering cause. He never seemed to give up or to become discouraged – at least, not that he let anyone know. His purpose was clear and circumstances, financial or otherwise, did not stop him from fulfilling his mission of helping others. I have no doubt that Mike has made it to Heaven. The Canadian stuttering community has lost one of its shining stars, and I will miss him.

Carla Di Domenicantonio is a speech-language pathologist in Burlington, Ontario.

For a related article writtten by Mike Hughes' daughter, click here.

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