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Gillian McHugh

Honored June 2012

Gillian McHugh

Born in Plymouth, England, and graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, Gillian Wethey became a concert pianist, a trainer in the Girl Guide Movement—and a world traveler. She married Santa Fe architect John McHugh, started a family, became involved in many musical organizations, then became piano teacher extraordinaire. Her life has been full of opportunity and giving. Gillian's philosophy is "welcome whatever experience comes, and do as much with it as you can."

Gillian's father was a sailor in the British Royal Navy. When her mother passed away, young Gillian and two older siblings were reared by their grandmother. Nine-year-old Gillian began piano lessons at the Royal School of Music, where she was the only child enrolled. Her first solo recital was at age eleven. Since then, she has performed widely in the U.S. and abroad, winning many musical competitions.

During World War II, Gillian worked in a children's hospital and became involved in the Girl Guide Movement. As a trainer for Guide/Scout personnel, she traveled extensively, from the Southwest U.S to the Bahamas, Mexico and Guatemala. In 1953, returning to Santa Fe for a conference, she met and married (the late) John McHugh, the architect who designed the Santa Fe Opera. They raised two children.

Gillian volunteered many hours with the Santa Fe Opera and other organizations. She remembers selling opera tickets and giving directions over the phone while cooking dinner. She served on the New Mexico Arts Commission, worked with the Santa Fe Concert Association, and the Rio Grande Symphony. She sang in the Santa Fe Civic Chorus, and the choir of the Church of the Holy Faith.

Gillian has taught piano for decades. "My students are my second family," she said. "I want to help them discover the way music talks to them, to nourish their love of music." In 1997, she was named Music Teacher of the Year by the Professional Music Teachers of New Mexico.

Gillian has given benefit recitals for St. John's College, Santa Fe Preparatory School, Youth Shelters and Family Services of Northern New Mexico, Red Mesa Art Center, and The Food Depot. She also supports the American Lung Association, Child Fund International, and Bob Woodward Foundation for Disabled Veterans.

Students wrote, "Gillian is truly one of a kind—a friend, a musician, a mentor, and an incredible human being." "Her total and impassioned interest in each student as a unique individual has truly changed lives."

Story by Barbara Harrelson

Photo © 2012 by Genevieve Russell