“I came up and interviewed, talked with Reuben Rainey, who had come here with a divinity school degree and had gotten his landscape architecture degree and was chair of the department at the time,” Hughes said. “He convinced me my background in French and comparative literature was not a detriment to my changing careers.”
After earning a master’s degree from UVA, Hughes returned home to Ohio and took a job with a landscape architecture firm in Akron. That gave her an overview of the business.
“I worked on any project that came in the door,” she said. “I worked on residential projects, city streetscape projects, park projects. The value to me of coming to a small landscape architecture practice is I got to see how the business operates, from soup to nuts. In a small firm, you have to pitch in and do everything. I wrote proposals; I did interviews to get jobs, met with clients, developed designs, worked on construction drawings and went to construction sites. I saw everything from beginning to end and got a really good sense of the business of landscape architecture and how things get commissioned, designed and built.”
While this gave Hughes a strong overview of landscape architecture, it frustrated her to complete a project and then walk away.
“You don’t have a stewardship, long-term contact role and you are always under the pressure of time, and time is money,” Hughes said. “When you are a person who is by nature a research geek, it is frustrating because you would like to be able to drill down into topics in more depth and you can’t do that.”
With a foundation in commercial landscape architecture, and her need for stewardship, Hughes then took a position with the National Park Service’s Historic Landscape Program.
“I ended up moving to Omaha, Nebraska, serving as the regional historic landscape architect for a multi-state region,” Hughes said. “This was a fabulous experience with wonderful colleagues, and I traveled all the time. I traveled in the warm months of the year probably five days a week, pretty much every week, so I covered a lot of territory for a lot of national parks, worked on historic preservation issues, a lot of landscapes and I had a wonderful experience.”
But eventually the travel took a toll. She saw an opportunity when UVA advertised for a landscape architect.
“Somebody saw the advertisement for UVA and they forwarded it to me,” Hughes said. “When I went to school here, there was not a University landscape architect position, so I didn’t know what it would all be about.”
Hughes contacted Samuel “Pete” Anderson, who was the architect for the University at the time. Anderson had a trip planned to Seattle, so he built in a stopover in Omaha and met Hughes there.
“We spent about nine hours straight just talking and really hit it off,” Hughes said, noting that they stay in touch and that Anderson, who retired from UVA in 2003, is designing a tasting room for the winery.
Hughes returned to Charlottesville in January 1996 to take the position.
“I blew in with the second blizzard of 1995-96,” she said. “That was the year that Charlottesville experienced two major blizzards. Kids were out of school in December for weeks. I was driving with my two dogs and all of my house plants from Omaha to Charlottesville in the second blizzard and it was like it was sweeping me along west to east.”