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Beloved Lower Merion High School principal killed in car crash remembered for being a ‘cheerleader’ and ‘comfort’

Students, teachers, friends, and family gathered to remember Sean Hughes, who died in a car crash over the weekend.

A memorial for principal Sean Hughes at Lower Merion High School.
A memorial for principal Sean Hughes at Lower Merion High School.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Sean Hughes was always there for his students at Lower Merion High School.

When Lower Merion student John Mobley wandered the halls of his new school, having just arrived from Roman Catholic High School, Hughes, the principal, showed him around. When Mobley faltered with his grades, Hughes was there to help him get back on track.

Freshman Sammy Caro didn’t know Hughes well. But in the few months he had been at the school, he saw Hughes’ kindness, realizing how much he cared about the school and its students.

And when Emily Partridge, class of 2010, lost her father when she was a junior and her world seemed to be falling apart, it was Hughes who helped make the school a place of refuge.

“During a time of incredible trauma and grief, his school was a place where I found support and comfort, which is something not everyone can say,” said Partridge.

While driving his son to his soccer game Saturday morning, Hughes, Lower Merion’s principal for more than 14 years, was killed in a car crash in Winslow Township, Camden County, police said.

Hughes’ death left the Lower Merion community in shock, with tributes and memories of the beloved principal flooding social media. And on a brisk Monday afternoon, more than 100 students and staff gathered outside the high school to remember their principal, whom most people would just call Huuuughes.”

There, under the school insignia, students, friends, and colleagues gathered, taking turns at a podium next to a sign reading “Hughes” encased in the school’s ace symbol. The sign was nestled between two halves of what many said was Hughes’ slogan: Character counts.

Former students took turns remembering Hughes’ school spirit, darting through the halls and reminding students to wear their “Beat Radnor” T-shirts, a sign of solidarity when competing against Lower Merion’s Main Line rival. Others just remembered the person whose presence filled every classroom he walked into, every assembly the school held, and rang across the bleachers at the school’s games.

“He was always open,” said Mobley. “He always just wanted to build you up. He made everyone feel loved and welcome. You didn’t even really need to know him. You’d feel the presence once he came in the room.”

In a statement, Lower Merion Superintendent Khalid Mumin said Hughes was beloved by “thousands of students,” taking time to learn their names and listen to their concerns.

“Everyone is shocked and heartbroken,” Mumin said. “It is hard for anyone to imagine Lower Merion High School without Mr. Hughes at the helm.”

Such was Hughes’ imprint that one student, Sadie White, created a petition to name a middle school in Lower Merion after Hughes. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 5,000 signatures.

“He was our principal, yes,” White wrote on the petition’s page. “But he was so much more than that. Our most loyal friend. Our biggest cheerleader. Our partner in crime. Huuuughes was the ultimate Ace.”

For Partridge, Hughes and the school provided comfort when her life was upended, she said.

“Over the past few days I’ve reflected so much on where that sense of comfort came from and I know that Principal Hughes played an incredibly important role in my experience that year and has truly shaped my professional purpose and journey and will continue to moving forward,” she said.

Hughes also served as the school’s athletic director and president of the Central Athletic League.

Along with his son Nolan, who was also injured in the crash, Hughes is survived by his wife, Kristi, son Jack, and daughter Kate.

Winslow Township police said the crash, which occurred when Hughes’ vehicle collided with another SUV, remained under investigation.