William R. “Bill” Hughes and his wife, Elizabeth Hughes, were married 73 years. (Courtesy photos)

William R. “Bill” Hughes, one of Shelby County’s first Black sheriff deputies and who became the first Black division director for both the Shelby County Department of Corrections and the Shelby County Fire Department died Sunday (May 15) after a brief illness.

He was 90.

His granddaughter Elizabeth “Liz” Merriwether said Mr. Hughes suffered a stroke in February. 

“After the stroke, he kept having health problems. That’s when I brought my grandparents here to live with my husband and I. They were living in southeast Memphis at the time.”

Mr. Hughes’ life was characterized by firsts and other notable accomplishments.

Mr. Hughes joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1960. During his 20-plus years with the Sheriff’s Department, he rose through the ranks before becoming assistant chief of the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. He was the first Black assistant chief in Tennessee law enforcement.

Mr. Hughes was the second African American from Tennessee to graduate from the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, graduating with honors. He was only the second African-American graduate of the FBI National Academy from Tennessee.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Merriwether said Mr. Hughes was a loving grandfather and father figure for Merriwether.

“My mother had me when she was very young,” said Merriwether. “She was still living in their house, and that’s where I lived growing up. He and my grandmother always looked after me. I was named ‘Elizabeth’ after my grandmother.”

As a youth, Mr. Hughes was recognized as someone who would go far in life, Merriwether said.

Hughes was born in Memphis and attended Booker T. Washington High School. He was senior class president in 1950.

Mr. Hughes was married to wife, Elizabeth Hughes, for 73 years. They had three children – Alonzo, Belinda and William Reginald. All three preceded Hughes in death.

Mr. Hughes was interested in pursuing studies in law enforcement investigation. Hughes started at Shelby State Community College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College). 

He enrolled at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis).

Mr. Hughes later became a court security officer for the United States Marshal Service.

He also graduated from the United States Secret Service Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

Hughes was a board member of Shelby County 911. Other affiliations include Boy Scout Troop Master, a 32nd Degree Mason, Noble Shriner, and Fraternal Order of Police.”

Mr. Hughes’ honors included Lawman of the Year in 1974 and Most Outstanding Deputy Sheriff in 1977. 

“My grandfather had such a rich life,” said Merriwether. “I guess he wanted to see me have the same thing. I attended a performing arts school. And because of my grandfather, I was able to go to France, and many other places around the world because of him.”

In addition to his wife, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 21) at Anointed Temple of Praise, 3939 Riverdale Road. A viewing will be held at the church Friday, May 20, 4-7 p.m.

N.J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home has charge.