Hughes, Norman Campbell (1915–95), plastic surgeon, was born 15 May 1915 in Bangor, Co. Down, the son of William Edwin Hughes, a manager of the Royal Insurance Company in Belfast, and Elizabeth Knox Hughes (née Campbell). Educated at Bangor grammar school and QUB, he qualified MB, B.Ch., BAO in 1937, passing the primary fellowship examinations of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, in the same year. Following house officer appointments at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, he spent a year doing postgraduate studies at QUB with the famous physiologist Henry Barcroft (qv) (1938–9). At the outbreak of the second world war Hughes joined the RAMC and volunteered for the elite commando force which was set up after the British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. Acting as a soldier more than a medic, he was deeply involved in the training and manoeuvres of his unit and took part in the raid on Lofoten, Norway, in March 1941. When his company was disbanded in 1943 he resigned from the commandos and was posted as a surgeon to hospital units, first in Damascus and Rhodes and then with the 15th Scottish General Hospital in Cairo. There he worked with Mortimer Shaw, a specialist in maxillo-facial surgery who influenced his subsequent decision to specialise in this area. After returning to Belfast in 1946, he won one of the first Marks fellowships (1947), which enabled him to pursue training in plastic surgery in England with Sir Archibald McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead. McIndoe, known as a perfectionist, later said that Hughes was the best student he ever had.
When Hughes again returned to Belfast in 1950, it was as a consultant plastic surgeon to the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC). He had been charged with developing a plastic surgery service for Northern Ireland. Having set up a clinic and regular operating sessions at the Throne Hospital, where the new plastic surgery unit was accommodated, he identified the need for a burns unit. Together with Dr Joan Logan, he established a successful protocol for treating severe burns that involved rapid assessment combined with early skin grafting. Deeply involved in issues of safety in the home during the 1950s, Hughes was instrumental in setting up an information campaign to educate parents about the dangers associated with domestic accidents. This was extended to the clothing and furniture industry and eventually resulted in the introduction of fireproof clothing and furniture material in Northern Ireland. In conjunction with Wilbert R. Dickie at the RBHSC, a paediatric plastic surgery service was set up across Northern Ireland, referring patients from around the province on to the RBHSC. Over subsequent years, Hughes was instrumental in several major improvements in the plastic surgery service, in particular the expansion into newly built accommodation in 1959 and the upgrading of the operating theatre. The services set up by him in Northern Ireland were used extensively in the civil and political unrest there during the 1970s and 1980s.
His interest in architecture, together with a flair for planning, resulted in appointments to the RBHSC management committee, the Royal Group management, the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority, and the Royal Victoria Hospital planning team, as well as the Ministry of Health advisory committee. Hughes made many valuable contributions to the work of these bodies. In recognition of his work as a plastic surgeon he was elected to fellowship of the RCS in 1947, honorary fellowship of the RCSI in 1972/3 and president of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons (1974–7). In 1979, the year of his retirement, he received an OBE.
Highly regarded as a natural surgeon, a good medical politician, and an able administrator, Hughes was a modest man and held in fond esteem by his colleagues. He was a gifted and dedicated postgraduate teacher, and was actively involved in the work of the RCP and the RCS to standardise the training of consultants. He did not publish a huge amount of research work, concentrating more on reports and contributions to surgical texts such as the Rob & Smith's operative surgery series and Recent advances in plastic surgery (1976). His interests outside of surgery were extensive. In his youth he was a good all-round sportsman and in later years he was a keen yachtsman, sailing with his family around the Scottish Isles on their annual holiday. The often-complimented precision and elegance of his surgical skills were replicated in his talent as a woodworker, and he was a noted collector of objets d'art, fine paintings, and books.
Hughes married a fellow doctor, Rosemary Fullerton, in 1946 and they had three children, a son and two daughters; both of the daughters entered the medical profession. He endured ill health with good humour in his later life and died 1 June 1995 from complications of a long-standing heart condition. The burns unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital was dedicated as the Norman C. Hughes Regional Burns Unit in his honour.