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Greg Hughes: Incoming House speaker scraps his way to top

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2016 04:05 pm

Greg Hughes, a boxing enthusiast with a pull-no-punches reputation, assumes the reins Monday as the 75-member Utah House launches its legislative session.

In each of his stylish suits and fashionable shirts, Greg Hughes has had the letters "LB" stitched into the fabric. It stands for "Lucky Bastard" and serves as a reminder of where he came from and the life he now enjoys.

Hughes never knew his father. His mother was a go-go dancer and art student, and her son grew up in blue-collar, rough-and-tumble neighborhoods, slugging his way through childhood with flailing fists and bloodied lips.

He survived brawls and boxing bouts, a car crash that crushed both his legs, allegations of ethical misconduct that threatened his political career and now is poised to be sworn in Monday as the next speaker of the Utah House.

"Greg grew up really poor with very limited opportunities," said Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, who traveled to Pittsburgh and met Hughes' aunt and uncle.

"The thing he had is he had a few friends and the Pittsburgh Steelers," Urquhart said. "And so, to me, seeing where he came from and hearing stories about it, it's just a complete success story. It proves people can claw their way up and really accomplish something, even when they come from a very, very humble beginning."

As a legislator, Hughes brought the same brawler's approach he developed early in life, attacking issues and debates with a fiery intensity that made him a force in Utah's Capitol and earned him the ire of some.


Humble beginnings • Maxine James was shopping at Kaufmann's department store in downtown Pittsburgh when she looked across the street and was stunned to see her daughter, Marguerite, with a round belly, nearly nine months pregnant. Maxine crossed in the middle of traffic, grabbed her daughter by the arm and took her home.

Those two women and Marguerite's sister raised and cared for the young Greg Hughes, who was given his father's name. Marguerite remarried when the boy was 4 years old, and the new family bounced from place to place, attending a new school nearly every year, before his parents divorced five years later.

His mother was in sales, so it was feast or famine in the household. One month, commissions would be booming and Hughes would get an electric guitar. The next month, the electricity would be shut off. In seventh grade, Hughes went to live with his stepfather after the IRS seized his mother's home because she hadn't paid her taxes.

At each new school, Hughes said, the way to make friends was to get into fights.

"You would have kids who would test you … and if you pushed back, you didn't have any problem," Hughes said. "If you were a kid who backed down or were afraid, it would get worse for you, and I figured that out pretty quick."

The boys would square off, throw some punches, end up rolling in the dirt and come away friends.

Hughes was also a latch-key kid, coming home after school and watching TV until his mother got home. One day, she came home from work early, Hughes recalls, and spotted some bikes by the woods near their house. His mother, wearing heels, hiked into the woods and caught her 8-year-old son smoking a cigarette.

"My mother sees me and she just starts to sob," Hughes said. "She's not even mad. She's just devastated. … She didn't want to leave me alone during the day, so she made me go to this place called the Richland Youth Foundation, where you put troublemaker kids that can't be supervised. And I got in three fights on my first day."

The staff at Richland tried to channel some of Hughes' energy, sending him upstairs to the boxing gym, where they started training him in sparring. It was a pivotal moment in his life, sparking a love for the sport that Hughes carries to this day.


A knock at the door • The other turning point for Hughes came years earlier, when two handsome Mormon missionaries knocked on his mother's door. She let them in and was baptized into the faith fairly quickly.

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