The passing of Irene Hughes, 92, Chicago psychic claim-to-fame who in later years, lived in Crete, feels like the loss of a close friend for many.
As a youth, I knew her name from seeing her on the covers of books and magazines. And in earlier years, she was also a broadcast media favorite, especially on local TV news, with camera crews following her around some secluded wooded area while she tried to help police authorities locate clues to crimes.
But I never met Hughes in person until almost a decade ago, in January 2003, when my editors told me to interview her about the death of one of her claravoyant colleagues, Sydney Omarr.
Omarr had died at age 76, in Santa Monica, Calif., and wrote the three decade-old daily horoscope column "Astrological Forecast" syndicated by Tribune Media Services in more than 200 newspapers around the world, including here in The Times from 1997 to 2003. The Times began running Omarr after the death of his friend, the late Jeane L. Dixon, whose daily horoscope column had appeared in nearly 400 newspapers.
Throughout the 1960s, it was Hughes who wrote our daily horoscope column feature for The Hammond Times.
Hughes told me she gained career inspiration from Omarr.
The two shared several guest appearances together on Merv Griffin's TV talk show.
Hughes' original downtown Chicago office was at 30 West Washington St.
During her long career, she wrote four books, attended White House presidential prayer breakfasts, hosted a radio show for WMAQ for 14 years and later, 10 years on the air for radio station B96.
And by the 1970s, the white-haired woman who grew up in rural Tennessee on her grandfather Joseph Carter's watermelon farm, was one of the most famous names in the field of seers and soothsayers, eventually moving her offices to a five-room suite at 500 N. Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago, where her consultations could cost as much as $500 per hour. She kept that address for 35 years.
"I knew I had a gift at an early age," Hughes told me.
"At 4 years old, I disrupted our church services by announcing to our minister that in one year he would not be around anymore. My mother scolded me, but in private, for being so bold. But what I had predicted came to be. The right side of the brain is the psychic side and the left side is the logic side."
Hughes and her beloved husband, Bill, who served as her business manager, were inseparatable until his death in April at age 94.
She told me one of her few regrets was her decision years ago to sell the rights to her name to a psychic telephone service company, featured in advertisements in the classified section of tabloids, which still uses her photo, and also her name as an internet web address, for "over the telephone" charged per minute psychic readings, though she never officially had any affiliation with the actual readings or the psychics used by the company.
"It was a bad decision and the contract turned out to be a very low price for selling name rights," husband Bill said.