Hugh-ville may sound as if its a place that lept of the pages of a Dr. Seuss.  It did not.

For Hugh-ville is not a place but rather a state of heart.

In my rural Virginia community we had a little boy by the name of Hugh Wiley who fought a courageous battle against lymphoma. Hugh died last year.

Hugh was a first grader at Hill School in Middleburg, Virginia where he was known for his insightful wisdom, good-natured sense of humor, his love of friends and of the playground.  Hugh started playing polo at age 4; he was an accomplished and avid fisherman, golfer, skier, swimmer, bird hunter and poker player who shared his love of these sports with his father Carter, big brother, James Langhorne and friends.  Hugh enjoyed precious, quiet moments reading with his mother Erica; and, yet, he relished leading fellow 6-year olds  through imaginary battles, before facing a real battle of his own.

I never saw a boy with such energy.  And maybe a better word for Hugh was charismatic he equally had a compelling charm… he was magical and special.

Not just a sweet boy but rather more of force.

At his funeral, friend and Less Cancer board member Stormy Stokes Hood had said Hugh had smelt like sunshine and dirt when talking about Hugh.

And he did.

Hugh was a breath of outdoors, he was the wind, the sun and yes dirt all wrapped up in one. He was as big as nature in his very young and brief life.

I knew Hugh.

I know Hugh’s family and I love them.

When Hugh died I did not quite know how to process or even understand how his heroic parents could negotiate the situation, the pain the agony and loss of such magnitude. Adults openly wept in the grocery store, post office and on the streets of our town. It was the kind of grief that socked you in the gut and knocked your breath away.

The loss of Hugh,was the communities loss, a loss that was far reaching however manifested itself in a very positive way.

Soon after Hugh’s death donations soon started trickling to Hill School, Middleburg Virgnia.

Carter this last spring had  said “When we asked that donations be given to the Hill School in lieu of flowers, we had no idea about where to put those funds to work.  It slowly came to us that putting them to work in the playground would be fitting and appropriate: the playground was where Hugh was happiest — it was where he could be a little boy.  We hope that this playground will do the same for all children in our community.  We continue to be moved by support in all forms: people have been — and continue to be — very generous with financial and professional service contributions…from individuals, corporations, and communities near and far.”

Well now the time is here and the playground is complete.

I fondly refer to the  new Hill School playground as Hugh-ville, not because of the state of the art play ground, but rather of state of heart of the community and the many lives Hugh touched. The love that is so evident upon a visit to this special playground.
This summer was a record breaker for heat- the only time a breeze blew was when tornado winds would come through with a storm.

Yet anytime I stopped by the playground I would see Carter and Erica , up to their knees in mud moving rock and brick. Erica with a cheery “hello darling” and Carter who would look to me to report than next mechanical challenge initially looking to me as if I had an answer but then to only realize its Bill the blogger he is talking to and then you could see the flash of brillance behind Carters eyes as if to say  why am I telling him?

When the Wiley’s were not moving rock they were leading the charge on landscaping , building and assembling play equitment- it was like watching machines. Not a lot of chit chat just non -stop work from people who knew they were building more than a play ground they were building something much bigger and greater than themselves as they were buidling a place that cancer could not touch.

Just the other day in the final stretch of the playground project a tired looking Carter was there wearing a pair of  shorts with pirates embroidered on them, when I made note of the shorts as only Carter could say in his Virginian gentleman accent “thank you Bill my mother brought these for me”.

Carter a  former Virginia Tech footballer player stood in his bare fee with mud to his knees, shirt untucked and tossed hair that may have been bed head from the day before said come on Bill I want you to walk on the turf field (mini soccer field that has been incorporated into the playground)  “it feels great come on” . I was hesitant to because the moment felt so sacred these people here were doing bigger work than met the eye.

Secretly. I was afraid to walk on that turf -I was afraid I might feel to much. I was afraid it would feel like countless tears and loss.

I waited to walk on that turf.

This evening, anticipating I would be alone,  I went to the Hill School playground with the intention of walking in my bare feet on the turf.

However when I got there I ran into Head Master Treavor Lord, others were on the play ground as well including 5th grade teacher John Daum and his family testing out the new swing sets.  In disbelief we all kind of look around as if we were all dropped in the middle of a magical playground and we were.

After dark I went back to the playground when I was sure all were gone -I kicked off my shoes and was mindful to listen to my heart upon my first step on to the turf.

Holding my breath as my foot made contact with the new field it instantly felt like happiness.


It felt like sheer joy .

It felt like Hugh-ville.

No. Cancer can’t break love and it sure can’t touch Hugh-ville.

If you are interested in supporting this project, please click here and note that the gift is for Hugh’s playground fund or contact Treavor Lord at The Hill School.

If giving at this time is not convenient for you, the Wileys ask that you make a point of spending time on a playground with a child you love in honor of Hugh–or better yet come spend time on the Hill School playground.