Robert A. Hughes

  • Hughes with Oprah Winfrey.Photo courtesy of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
  • Hughes before he lost 165 pounds (74 kg).Photo courtesy of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

There is a celebrity among us—Robert Hughes, field superintendent, project manager and director of plant operations for J.D. Miles & Sons Inc., Chesapeake, Va., appeared on the Incredible Weight-loss Stories episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." After the 43-year-old hit 365 pounds (164 kg), he made a decision to get his life in order. Hughes began walking 1 mile (1.6 km) a day and watching what he ate. He read weight-loss magazines to learn how to create a menu plan. Hughes lost 165 pounds (74 kg); he now runs 5 miles (8 km) per day and is a trainer at a local gym.

Professional Roofing: Why did you appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"?
Hughes: My appearance on the show was the result of a tremendous amount of meditation, prayer and hard work. My fiancé, Kim Gales, submitted my story in June 2002 in response to the show's request for dramatic life changes linked to personal weight. I didn't hear anything until Jan. 6. Show representatives then called several times every day for an entire week asking all types of questions but always ending the conversation by saying, "We're considering hundreds of people." Then, on Sunday, Jan. 12, the show called to tell me my flight was leaving for Chicago at 7:17 a.m. the next Monday. I was in the gym training a client when I received the call; my client yelled about the show to a local ABC affiliate news anchor also at the gym. The anchor had me come to the studio for an interview before leaving for the airport.

The show aired Feb. 10 and July 21. Although I didn't speak to Oprah off camera, the experience always will be with me. She's a wonderful person, and her entire staff redefined the meaning of first class. For three days, I was treated like Denzel Washington!

What is your most unusual roofing experience?
I was delivering some gravel stop to a new construction site in Hampton, Va., that just had been filled in with dirt. I walked across the dirt and began to sink. Everyone at the job site stopped and watched the incredible sinking man. It took four guys to pull me out, and I lost both boots.

What was your first roofing experience?
June 1, 1994, at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk, Va. I was grossly overweight and had to climb up scaffolding indoors and clean asphalt off painted metal joists.

What are your best habits?
"Clean" eating and regular exercise. I began losing weight five years ago.

What are your favorite stress relievers?
Power walking and listening to cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach.

What is your favorite item on your desk?
What desk? I can't see my desk! If I could, it would be my cast-iron JCB forklift miniatures.

What do you consider your most rewarding experience?
Reuniting with my daughter after being estranged from her for 13 years.

With which historical people do you most closely identify?
Martin Luther King for his understanding of agape—the love that allows you to hate the deed but not the person. Malcolm X for his uncompromising stance on manhood and owning up to responsibilities. Charles Darwin for his boundless fascination with nature. Albert Einstein for his quest to find the underlying simplicity of our universe.

What do you consider a waste of time?
Slow drivers in the left lane, pity parties, talking negatively about other people and situations, and "window" shopping.

People would be surprised to know that ...
I still have some junk food now and then.


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