published Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Former GPS leader Nat Hughes Jr. dies

Dr. Nathaniel Cheairs "Nat" Hughes Jr., author, historian and headmaster of Girls Preparatory School from 1973 to 1987, died Wednesday. He was 81.

"Nat was the headmaster who modernized GPS," said Dr. Randy Tucker, who followed Hughes in the position. "He was the one who brought us from the 19th century forward. He saw we could be so much more than that.

"His generation brought diversity to our schools and at great professional risk," Tucker said. "He convinced the board and moved GPS forward."

Hughes, a Chattanooga native, began his educational career in 1959, teaching history and English and coaching at the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tenn.

In 1962, he was appointed headmaster of St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis, where he served for more than 11 years.

At GPS, Tucker said, Hughes not only broadened the student body but also oversaw the school's expansion in arts and athletics.

When he retired in 1987, Hughes put his energy into history and writing, authoring, editing or compiling 35 fiction and nonfiction books.

His expertise in Civil War history was the Western theater, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, said Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park historian Jim Ogden.

Of "a number of very important and valuable books" Hughes did, his early biography of Confederate Gen. William Joseph Hardee has stood as a solitary resource on the subject, Ogden said.

"Even in 2012, as we celebrate [the war's] sesquicentennial," said Ogden, interested readers "need to pick up Nat's biography [that was] published during the centennial. For half a century, Nat's contribution on Hardee has been the thing."

In 2000, Hughes was awarded the Charles L. Defour Award for a lifetime of achievement in the historiography of the American Civil War.

The educator and author held degrees from Yale University and the University of North Carolina and had been a Marine.

Information about a memorial service will be announced.

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