Born Violet Henderson in 1922, Vi lived her childhood in working-class Edinburgh and went on to study English Literature at Edinburgh University. She taught in schools in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and later became a Tutor and then Senior Tutor in English Literature at Ruskin.
As a young communist in Yugoslavia in 1948, helping to rebuild the Sarajevo railway line, she met John Hughes, the future Principal of Ruskin. They soon married and started a family. Their partnership would flourish at Ruskin, and Vi was known for teaching generations of Ruskin students that politics, social justice and humanity could all be understood and engaged with through literature, poetry and arts. She was a passionate advocate for education for all and to countering the inequalities that left too many unable to express or use their talents fully.