Remembering C. David Hughbanks, Seattle’s Connector-in-Chief

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“Hughbanks here,” was a frequent C. David Hughbanks’ initiation of a phone call. There was little normal about this exceptional person who for five decades was pivotal in the civil connections enabling our community to grow. Out-front leaders are recognized. Much less so the behind-the-scenes figures like C. (for Clarence) David who excelled at making positive things happen in the 50 organizations he participated in over his career. 

How did Hughbanks get the results he did? He nurtured relationships with many hundreds of people. Christmas cards with personal notes, calls on birthdays, and many other ways of remembering his friends which included almost everyone he knew. His frequent smile was genuine. 

C. David went to Ballard High School. His lifetime friend Emory Bundy attended Roosevelt High, where he thought he knew everyone, having gone through eight years of school with many before getting to high school. When C. David came to a Roosevelt dance, Emory was amazed that C. David knew more kids there than he did. Not only that, but he was a superb dancer. Establishing relationships was an ability C. David developed early and refined into an art.

When a student at the UW, C. David began to show his talent for publicizing events. There was an annual competition between classes featuring a song and a stunt. C. David’s and Emory’s freshman and sophomore classes won the song but not the stunt. Determined to prevail as juniors, the two of them snuck into a fraternity at 3 am and stole two lion statues. They then fanned wild rumors on campus regarding the fate of the beloved lions. When the stage curtain went up for their “stunt,” the now famous lions were prominent. The crowd burst into excited applause, assuring their victory.

More serious interests were also developed in those formative years. C. David helped get Emory elected the first non-Greek Student Body President. He himself became the go-to person in the Pacific Northwest for the National Student Association (NSA) which back in the day was a force. Both of them got to know Al Loewenstein, a recent national President of the NSA, when he spoke on campus. C. David worked with him on major issues and Emory later was his chief of staff when the charismatic Lowenstein was in Congress.       

In the decades of the 1960s and ‘70s the Seattle Center was critical to a Seattle riding the momentum of the World’s Fair into becoming a vibrant center for the arts. C. David was in the middle of the action. The Mayor entrusted him with setting up the first Arts Commission.

Anne Focke was a young staffer then and she remembers meeting with C. David to be briefed on who he’d selected for the Commission. Anne was impressed with the depth of his knowledge of every single person. Bumbershoot and Folklife Festival emerged with his heavy involvement. It impressed the artists that C. David did not fear jumping into subjects completely new to him. Anne worked closely with him for the duration. 

A local group agreed with Ted Turner to bring the Goodwill Games, including a major Arts Festival, to Seattle in 1990. There were three visual arts exhibitions, and C. David agreed to direct the largest of these: art treasures from 500 years of Russian history, most of which had never left Russia before. In addition to all the diplomatic skills for which he was known, landing the show required C. David’s tenacious toughness that underlay his character. The Russians would not consider letting these literal  treasures out of the country unless the national museum of the US, the Smithsonian, was actively involved. In the end, “Moscow Treasures and Traditions” was a great success and was shown at the Smithsonian after Seattle.   

Like most highly interesting people, there was little normal about C. David. He lived at his mother’s home where he’d grown up his entire life. He would house sit, at no charge, for up to ten months of the year throwing fabulous parties in beautiful locations. He enjoyed variety with his homes but not his car. He purchased a red Mustang convertible in 1965 and drove it until 2022. It had over 1 million miles and four engines. Kathie Raff marveled at how he’d decorate his home for Christmas with three trees, over a hundred vintage windup toys and many more wonders. Emory noted that students who’d been with them at the UW and who left Seattle and then years later contacted him always asked about C. David. There was an appealing mystery about the man.                  

C. David devoted his precious time and impressive abilities to creating unity in the community. He had a gift for knowing who was who and how they were connected. According to the theories of the Jesuit scientist/theologian Teilhard de Chardin the most valuable people in the world are those who connect others forming a unified community advancing the common good. C. David Hughbanks was such a star.              

Historylink.org has an excellent review of C. David’s life which I urge people to review.

Jarlath Hume
Jarlath Hume
Jarlath Hume worked closely with C. David Hughbanks on civic projects including the Goodwill Arts Festival.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for these memories. How do you think such talents and temperament would unfold in today’s world of social media saturation, ugly polarization, and remote meetings?

  2. C. David exemplified a long tradition of “glue” figures in Seattle, stemming from his mentor in the World’s Fair, Ewen Dingwall. Hughbanks was able, through personal charm and working the problem, to hold together individualistic coalitions. We greatly lack such figures today in our age of aggressive identification politics. Some members of this honor roll are: Phyllis Lamphere, Sam Smith, Paul Kraabel, Joel Pritchard, Norm Rice, Herb Robinson, Bill Gerberding, Betty Bowen, Roger Nyhus, Bill Sullivan, Sally Bagshaw, Richard Conlin, Sam McKinney, Jerry Grinstein. Who did I miss?

  3. Mr. Brewster
    Many thanks for a fine list, kind sir.

    Since you asked . . . Warren G. Magnuson . . . and Ivar!!

    In his early days in public life, Maggie formed the most expansive coalition I can think of. I am fully receptive to being shown my error here.

  4. One of my favorite C. David stories was that when he was still an undergrad frat-boy at the UW, he worked in the PR department for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. One of his assignments was to hire escorts for visiting pageant “princesses”, a job that came with use of a fancy car for the day and $50 cash for each escort. Apparently this was regular thing. On American Business Day, there was a flock of visiting industry princesses, Miss American Dairy Products, The Corn Queen, The Tractor Parts Princess, etc. On International Day, there were beauty contest princess from the Miss World Pageant. Needless to say, C. David quickly became the most popular guy on Frat Row…

  5. Beloved friend and fellow Seattle native C. David was a decade older than I am, his mother was even older than my grandmother and he grew up in “Seattle Freeze” land, north of the Ship Canal, far from my Montlake home turf. I’m lucky we finally met as young-ish grown-ups – hopelessly optimistic about what Seattle could become.

    C. David inspired us not to give up on 1960s Seattle as it faced its alarming population decline (check the city’s 1970 census), the first in its history.

    White flight defied efforts to reverse the trend until “our fair city” clawed itself back into the growth direction after 20 years – more diverse, more childless, more family-less. C. David and fellow travelers stuck around, working to encourage the creep upward, and a small population increase finally posted in 1990.

    A childhood friend who’d left for the ‘burbs, rolled eyes at me back in the ‘90s, knowing I still lived in the city in a racially mixed neighborhood, and said “Seattle? Just a theme park.” You need to start somewhere. Build stuff, Organize stuff. Try stuff. C. David did. In celebrating his life and style, let’s hope we appreciate that the sort of community-making he inspired is what it takes to make a lovely city.

  6. Wow, you really nailed his story, Jarlath! Thank you. He and David Lempesis were also a pretty good team back in the 70s, if I recall.

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