Keeping a Poker Player's House Full

Russell Hughes' widow Joanne asked his poker buddies to continue their weekly game after his death from prostate cancer in 2004.
When you lose a loved one, you search for ways to keep his or her spirit alive ... to hold on to the memories you shared. The woman you're about to meet found a special way to do just that, as CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman explains:

Jo Anne Hughes is a 58-year-old widow from Dallas, Texas, with a story to tell about losing a spouse way too early - and that fine line you have to walk between moving on and never forgetting.

Her husband Russell died of prostate cancer back in 2004, at age 53. "Not very old," said Jo Anne.

And, she said, he "loved being a daddy."

And yet to this day, Jo Anne still can't bear to throw out his last pair of shoes - still has the jeans he wore the day before he went in the hospital. And most important of all, she still keeps his poker room just as it was.

Every Wednesday night for more than 20 years, Russell had his friends come over to play. They were his dearest friends, which is why Jo Anne decided not only to keep the room ... but keep the guys as well.

"They're my guys!" she said, as Mike came to the door.

"You call them your guys?" Hartman asked.

"Yea, I guess I do."

Every Wednesday night Russell's old friends continue to come over to his widow's house.

"When they come they spend about 20 minutes just talking to me and visiting as they gather, and then they head on up and play poker."

Of all the things to find solace in: Never mind that most wives want nothing to do with poker night at their house - Jo Ann has now been putting up with this for 6 years longer than she's had to.

"I know, poker guys! Who'd have thought?"

John Trebisky, who was perhaps Russell's closest friend, said that before Russell passed away, Jo Anne took her aside in the waiting room and made him promise that his poker buddies would keep playing at the Hughes house.

"It was kind of shocking," john said, "because the last thing on my mind was where the poker game was going to be in two weeks. But it was important to her."

The question is - why?

The guys could only guess.

"For some odd reason, she likes our company," one said.

"I think it gives her a sense of calm," suggested another.

"I think because we were all a part of their lives," said another.

Jo Anne said the real answer is actually quite a bit deeper: "When somebody dies, you keep losing parts of them ... we sold Russell's truck, the dogs we had died off."

Jo Anne said it helps to have something you know you can hold onto - something more that pictures, pants and shoes - something very real, and very Russell.

"It keeps him alive for me. It's nice."

The other benefit is that Jo Anne now has eight big brothers who are always willing and able to help her with everything from putting in an air conditioner to negotiating a car deal - all the things Russell used to do.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.