An Air Force officer with top security clearance who deserted 35 years ago and was arrested in California last week worked for years as a consultant for the University of California system, former colleagues said. University system colleagues knew William Howard Hughes Jr. as a personable, brainy number cruncher for the system's vast health benefits program, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said Hughes, who was living under the name Barry O'Beirne, was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California. "This just floors me," says Judy Boyette, a San Francisco attorney who signed O'Beirne's consulting contracts when she ran human resources and benefits at UC more than a decade ago.
Looking at a photo of her former colleague in custody, Boyette was stunned, reports the AP. "Oh, my word. That is unbelievable. But that's him! Wow." Boyette and other University of California system colleagues said they knew him as a cheerful health benefits actuary and consultant for Deloitte in San Francisco who was contracted to work in the office of the system's president during the mid-2000s. They described him as smart, articulate, kind, and very likable. "The thing I loved about him was that he could relate to everybody. Just a very nice personality," Boyette says. Stephanie Rosh, a retired insurance manager at UC, worked with O'Beirne for years. "He is very smart," she says. "Always had a wry sense of humor. Always joking." And when the staff was tired, "he might take the whole team out after work. A team player." (This adventurous teen was missing for two years.)