'Ferocious' CBC Vancouver leader Liz Hughes dies at 67

A long-time CBC leader described by co-workers as a "formidable force" behind the scenes within the public broadcaster has died.

'She was so smart. She always did the right thing. She was a strong leader and always just so human'

'She was unbelievably tough,” said Doug Rushton who lost his wife, Liz Hughes, on May 4 after a recurrence of breast cancer. (Doug Rushton)

A long-time CBC leader described by co-workers as a "formidable force" behind the scenes within the public broadcaster has died.

Liz Hughes, 67, died of complications due to breast cancer surrounded by loved ones — including her husband Doug Rushton, children Lauren, 35, and Sam, 29, on Friday afternoon in the palliative care unit at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

Hughes was the impetus behind a myriad of projects and initiatives at CBC from creating Canada Now, the first network program spearheaded in Vancouver, to creating cutting-edge mobile first strategy, before retiring in 2014.

But retirement didn't stop Hughes. She found new projects such as helping settle refugees in Canada and bringing radio to Africa.

"She was so smart. She always did the right thing. She was a strong leader and always just so human," said former CBC Vancouver Director Wayne Williams.

"We are still feeling the impact of Liz Hughes. We lost a good person," Williams said.

Liz Hughes in Paris in 2012. (Doug Rushton)

During her almost 40-year career Hughes was a strong mentor, said CBC General Manager Jennifer McGuire.

"Liz was unflappable and strong, but always compassionate. She was full of integrity, and dedicated to helping people find their way and develop as journalists and leaders," said McGuire.

As executive producer, Hughes created ground-breaking current affairs shows Pacific Report and Monitor.

"She will be missed immensely, but will always be remembered," said senior managing director Johnny Michel.

Hughes and Rushton tried to travel as much as they could, despite her struggle with cancer. (Doug Rushton)

Close friends said Hughes, at heart, was rooted in simple, rural values.

"She is the mother that everybody wants. Completely practical but completely loving at the same time," said close friend, documentary-maker Helen Slinger.

At 16, Elizabeth Anne Hughes left her small rural hometown in Ormstown, Que., to finish Grade 13 in Ontario.

At 19, she headed west, to B.C..

She ended up working as a print reporter in Campbell River, then in Victoria, until she was recruited by CBC Vancouver.

Hughes's long-time husband Doug Rushton said her ability to work with people left him in awe.

"She was unbelievably tough," Rushton said..

"She could work her way through almost everything, except now."

Hughes started working with CBC in 1977 and retired in 2014. After that she worked to bring radio to rural Africa and helped settle a family of six Syrian refugees in B.C. (Liz Hughes/Facebook)

After retirement Hughes served as a board member on Farm Radio International, a non-profit that works to deliver radio to Africa.

She also became the so-called "queen-pin" of a group of media-types called North Shore Friends that helped a Syrian family of six refugees settle in Canada.

But most importantly, she was thrilled by her grandson, Max, now 2½.

She had battled breast cancer twice before it took her on May 4. Friends say she had four and a half "fabulous" years after she beat cancer the first time.

"That was part of the wham of this last diagnosis," said Slinger, who said she and others are still reeling from the loss of Hughes, who always seemed unstoppable.

"She was ferocious."

'Liz was unflappable and strong, but always compassionate. She was full of integrity, and dedicated to helping people find their way and develop as journalists and leaders,' wrote CBC General Manager Jennifer McGuire in a note to staff. (CBC Vancouver)