By Bob Jacobson
Growing up in rural Carroll County in the 1970s and ‘80s, Robyn Hughes had few Jewish peers but encountered many Jewish professionals — physicians, surgeons and public school teachers.
“They had a positive impact on my character development, on my commitment to family, community and education, to use my intellect to do some good for the world,” Hughes said.
Hughes has worked to make the world more accessible for visually impaired people like her. Throughout her life since college, Hughes has also been involved in the Jewish community. When she was younger, she spent time studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Now, she is an active member of the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah. And for 15 years, she was a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, Hughes immersed herself in Jewish learning. She was selected to live in the women’s Hebrew apartment of the Language House, a language immersion program and residence at UMCP, which she described as “an amazing experience I feel very privileged to have had.” She received the Language House’s Initiative Award for organizing lectures on Israel-related topics and a symposium on second language acquisition. Achieving a 4.0 grade point average in Hebrew, she was inducted into the Hebrew National Honor Society. While at UMCP, Hughes spent one academic year studying ancient rabbinic text at the Pardes Institute and spent summers at Matan Institute, a women’s yeshiva. She graduated from UMCP with a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies, with minors in Hebrew and philosophy.
Hughes received a master’s degree in Jewish studies at Baltimore Hebrew University (now part of Towson University). She specialized in German Jewish history with a subspecialty in the German Jewish “coffeehouse intellectuals” of the late 19th and early 20th century. Hughes later lectured on this topic, among others, to the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah.
In 2005, Hughes became a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. For the next 15 years, she conducted tours and public programs for visitors. As a research fellow at JMM in 2006, she organized a salon series, which included recreating the late writer and art collector Gertrude Stein’s salon at her own home in Pikesville, where Hughes has lived since 2002. Co-sponsored by the Starbucks in Mount Washington, the salon included a violin concert, readings and a film premiere. For five years, Hughes also represented JMM in the American Alliance of Museums’ advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.
Hughes uses a video-magnified print reader and has read Braille since she was 2. She has transcribed JMM’s materials into Braille, educated museum visitors who read Braille and trained museum volunteers and staff in best accessibility practices for visitors with low vision and blindness. Her access work in the wider community led to Hughes’s appointment to the board of the Friends of the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, where she has chaired the annual Hike-a-Thon, raising thousands of dollars. She also serves on the American Council of the Blind’s Performing Arts, Museums and Parks subcommittee and has helped the National Park Service make their park brochures accessible for people with low vision and blindness.
From early childhood, Hughes has loved the outdoors. Now she has carried over that early passion for nature to Patapsco Valley State Park. She has led hikes on the park’s all- sensory (i.e., Braille) trail, a 0.1 mile, semi-rugged loop. In July, she will lead the hike for BJCC.
Hughes is also active in Patapsco’s kayaking program. She is planning to kayak the Patapsco River between April and August, in tandem with a guide, “from source to sea,” that is, from Carroll County to the Inner Harbor. If successful, she plans to write a memoir about the expedition, with proceeds donated to Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, Kennedy Krieger Institute and the American Council for the Blind.
In early 2020, “I realized that, because of the pandemic, the outdoors would likely become the new indoors,” Hughes said.