Here's What I Think About That

Saying Goodbye to 'Huge' McMillan


Hugh McMillan made me famous.

Alright, famous is an exaggeration, but in the first few years we lived here, my photograph appeared half a dozen times between the KP News and the Gateway. My friends ribbed me: “In the paper, again?”

Still, for the first 10 years I knew him, Hugh never once remembered my name or whether we’d met before (yes, a hundred times, yes).

I remember suggesting he photograph somebody else, but he’d say, “Oh, don’t you worry about it kid, my editors are going to love this.”

I think that’s how Hugh made everyone feel — special — as if there was nobody more important than you, at least while you were under his spell.

When I became the executive editor of this newspaper, he suddenly remembered my name. He called me all the time to pitch stories he demanded we cover, and he would send page after page of blurry photos of anonymous children we couldn’t use.

And to be fair, he was largely blind these last few years.

But he didn’t care. The man was unstoppable. He frequently reminded me, though didn’t need to, that he’d been taking pictures and writing articles for the KP News for 30 years already, and that he sure knew what he was doing so I’d better pay attention.

We had our disagreements, but after 21 years of crossed paths and mixed messages, when he said one day, “You’re doing a great job and the paper has never been better. I love you kid” — I melted in spite of myself. In the end, I loved him too. How could I not?

Janice and Hugh. Janice died Aug. 1, 2021, Hugh Feb. 10, 2023. Ed Johnson, KP News

Hugh McMillan died in his sleep Feb. 10 at the age of 96, leaving behind a fan club nobody else could touch. Many years ago, a friend’s 8-year-old son called him “Huge McMillan.” Everyone laughed, but the kid was spot on.

Retired KPFD Battalion Chief and current Peninsula School Board member Chuck West was a 26-year-old volunteer firefighter when he first met Hugh, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a fire commissioner at the time.

“He mentored me in my career,” West said. “My background was rough, and I didn’t get much parenting in my early years. Hugh kind of took over and helped me along. He taught me that I can do anything.”

When Chuck lost his son in an accident, Hugh and his wife Janice were there. Knowing firsthand what that pain was like, Janice wrote Chuck a letter he says he still reads today. Hugh coached him on getting a memorial skatepark built at Volunteer Park to honor his son.

“When it comes to dealing with others who have experienced loss, I’m not afraid anymore,” Chuck said. “Hugh taught me not to run from that pain, but to reach out and comfort others.”

U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-6th) told KP News he’s not sure he has met anyone who cared more about kids, community, family or his country more than Hugh McMillan.

Hugh served in the intelligence service and to the end of his days, Kilmer said, “he was incredibly dialed in to what was happening in our country and our world. That’s what made him a unique person and someone whose friendship I really treasure.”

His favorite Hugh McMillan story took place during his own first election day, when they were out waving signs at the end of the Purdy Spit.

Kilmer had seen Hugh at meetings and was curious, so he asked him how he met his wife Janice and how he joined the CIA.

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t speak again for two hours. He just rolled. It was fascinating and I wished I had a tape recorder going … those are the types of experiences, on top of all that he’s done for the community and kids … but it was that gleam in his eye and ability to tell a story that was really special.”

Former PSD Board President Marcia Harris said she’s grateful for the tribute Hugh is leaving on YouTube, stories from his trips and adventures overseas.

Her favorite is one Hugh told her a long time ago, about his visiting Driftwood Annie along “her” beach down at Pitt Passage.

“That’s the only personal story I’ve really heard about her,” Marcia said. “He spoke of his visit with her as almost an ethereal experience. Hugh gave me a real sense of who that woman was and what she created out here, a myth we all believe in.”

Another legacy he left is the KP Lions Club Citizen of the Year Awards, she said. “I say that not because the award is about recognizing an individual, but because his process of publication in the paper really celebrates the Key Peninsula residents who are giving back to their community.”

The next Citizen of the Year Award banquet is scheduled for March 25 at the Key Peninsula Civic Center (see page 19 of this edition).

Norm McLoughlin, who has done his own share of heavy lifting for the Key Peninsula, said, “Hugh was a great friend and a good troublemaker. I hope people will take on the community work he did and was planning to tackle.”

The truth is anyone who knew Hugh McMillan has a story to tell, and that story still lives in each one of us. As does, I hope, the need to keep it going, and the need to give back just a little to what Hugh started and kept at since he first set foot on the Key Peninsula in 1978, and which he kept after to the end, even when he could no longer see it.