Hampton Resident Profile: Hugh French

Mar 26, 2014

Baltimore, MD, the largest seaport in the Mid-Atlantic United States, was founded in 1729. At the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, is Fort McHenry, the site of a raging battle with the British during the War of 1812 and the occasion for Francis Scott Key to write the words to “The Star Spangled Banner”. Later the words were set to a tune by a British composer and became the official National Anthem of the United States of America in 1931, during the Great Depression. One year earlier I was born in far northwest Baltimore. My younger sister, Lou, and brother, Bill, came along 1 and 6 years later, respectively. Our parents were of modest means but rich in love and solid values. These characteristics would shape our futures.

My dad moved to Baltimore from rural Virginia when he finished high school and was an accountant when he met and married our mom, a Baltimore native. He continued to work for the Baltimore Gas Electric Light and Power Company until his retirement as VP-Property Accounting in 1965. My mom was a loving stay-at-home-mom who inspired each of us to pursue music. To this day, my sister is a professional concert cellist and teacher in Stockton, CA. Following six years of piano lessons, I took up saxophone in high school so I could march in the band. (Pianos were not allowed!)

Scholastically I was not a top student but did well enough to successfully skip one grade during junior high school, and then proceeded to attend Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, an engineering prep-school, that placed me on a path for an engineering career, my father’s dream. After a rather poor showing in my first two years at University of Maryland, my dad “suggested” that I get a job and continue my studies at night school. Grateful for the opportunity to earn some spending money, I enrolled in night school at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering degree. During the day, I worked as a mechanical draftsman for a small machine shop in downtown Baltimore.

At this time (1951) the draft was in full swing and I knew it wouldn’t be long before my name would come up. So I decided to preserve my choices and enlisted in the USAF, completing my basic training at Sampson AFB in upstate New York. Eight weeks later I found myself at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS for Radar Maintenance Training. My first duty station was Barksdale AFB in Bossier, LA. In the spring of 1953, I returned to Keesler AFB for a course in Advanced Radar Maintenance Training. It was during this time that I met the love-of-my-life, Millie Daniels, although I didn’t realize it at the time. It was also during this time that I stumbled onto an opportunity to purchase an 80-base accordion, an offer I couldn’t refuse. Millie and I continued to correspond after I returned to my duty station at Barksdale AFB. Subsequently I was deployed to Iceland to assist in the installment and operation of an early warning ground radar system near Keflavik, Iceland, the land of the midnight sun. During my 1-year tour in Iceland, both my writing (daily letters to Millie) and music skills (learning and performing accordion at the NCO Club) improved. As Millie and I continued our faithful daily correspondence, our knowledge of and affection for each other grew, resulting in my proposal and acceptance by mail, with a two-week lag time in between. Upon my return from duty in Iceland, I obtained a ring and flew to New Orleans, LA where she and her brother met me at the airport. An appropriate celebration was held at “Pat O’Brien’s” in the French Quarter, and then the drive to Millie’s home in Gulfport, MS where I was accepted by her parents. We were married a few months later in 1954, enjoyed a brief Honeymoon and moved to our new home in Hahira, GA, close to Moody AFB in Valdosta, GA. I was discharged from the USAF in June of 1955.

We made Baltimore out starting home base as it was close to my family and friends, and the manufacturer of the radar equipment with which I was very familiar. After accepting a position at Bendix Radio, we rented a small apartment and, using my GI Bill, I re-enrolled at JHU to continue my course work toward an engineering degree. Our first son, Hugh III (Chip), was born in 1956 and followed by a second son, Howard, in 1959. I graduated from JHU in 1962 with a BSE-EE and, as I promised Millie I would do (move to the south!), I accepted a position in radar systems design with Continental Electronics in Dallas, TX. By then our daughter, Alice, was on the way and was born in Dallas in 1963.

In 1972, the radar segment of Continental’s business had markedly diminished and I transferred to the Garland Division of E-Systems, a subsidiary of E-Systems, Inc (ESY). My work involved travel to far away places like the Marshall Islands, Phoenix Islands, Hawaiian Islands and Australia. During my employment with ESY, I attended night school at University of Dallas and earned my MBA-BA. After 29 years credited service, I retired from E-Systems at the age of 62. That’s when life began!

Millie and I had long dreamed about retiring and buying a comfortable motor yacht on which to live and cruise the coastal and near coastal waters of the eastern USA. After selling our home on Lake Ray Hubbard, we purchased a 40-foot Heritage Trawler (French Quarters) in Florida and cruised nearly 8000 miles over a 3-year period, with visits to Key West, Chesapeake Bay, Bahamas, and the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Apalachicola, FL to Gulfport, MS. Burnt Store Marina near Punta Gorda, FL was our homeport for nearly two years. In 1996, we sold French Quarters and downsized to a 26’ lobster boat. With my boating experience, I was applied for and was awarded a USCG Captains license. Without a doubt, this had been one of the best chapters of our lives and we were both thankful that we did it, for it wasn’t long before life started to change.

I had a benign tumor removed from my left chest cavity and back surgery for an extended disc. Then Millie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and we traveled the journey together until her passing in 2008. After some serious soul searching, I decided to relocate to the Hamptons in Tyler, TX. The Hamptons family and Tyler have given me a new chapter of my life. I feel like I have come out of retirement with the multiple activities that I so enjoy: writing for the Messenger, Alzheimer’s Day Club, Waterobics, frequent concerts, Friday Lunch Bunch outings and the wonderful fellowship afforded by the residents. I look forward to becoming a long time resident of the Hamptons.


Hugh French
Hugh French

Watch for next month’s Hamptons Resident Profiles by Hugh French. You may offer suggestions for future Profile’s by contacting Hugh at 903-747-3032 or Monica at 903-566-0460.

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