:Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; :Aug 22, 2009; :Arkansas; :16

Mary Hill

Valued education, God, serving others


    Mary Hill drove a station wagon because she needed space for the two or three kids she often drove around beside her own three sons.

    During a school year decades ago, the longtime Arkadelphia High School registrar daily drove Vietnamese immigrants to and from school, her son Shawn Hill recalled. And on Sundays, she transported carloads of high school and college students to church, and afterward drove them to her house for a big meal, he added.

    Hill, a mother to many, who “believed in activities, church and school,” her son Fitz Hill said, died Wednesday from acute respiratory failure at St. Joseph’s Regional Health Center in Hot Springs.

    She was 76 and had spent most of the 25 1 /2 years since a severe stroke paralyzed her right side and took away her speech under a sister’s care in California, said Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

    Mary Hill’s husband James Hill had died in November 1983 after three years of cancer, and stress from the ordeal might have caused an aneurysm Mary Hill suffered on Jan 9. 1984, one week before her stroke, Fitz Hill added.

    For a while, Hill cared for his mother at their Arkadelphia home, until her older sister June Callaway “saw how I was struggling” and offered to take care of her instead at her home in Berkeley, Calif. Hill, then a student athlete at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, agreed to “finish the schooling that mom always wanted me to do.”

    Although Mary Hill never graduated from college, she preached to her sons that education “is your ticket to what you want to be in life. You have got to put God first, get your education” and serve others, Fitz Hill said.

    Born Mary Stephens on Aug. 14, 1933, in Arkadelphia, she was the youngest of five children and graduated from Arkadelphia’s Peake High School in 1952. After a stint attending vocational schools in California, she returned home, became a secretary at Peake High School and married her high school sweetheart, James Hill, in 1954.

    As an employee of local public schools, Mary Hill was able to easily keep tabs on her children’s progress, her son said, recalling once in high school he arrived tardy. Hill, by then a registrar, found out and immediately walked to his classroom, knocked on the door and summoned him for a reprimand in the hallway, he said, chuckling.

    After school and in the summers, Hill drove through neighborhoods in an old, green pickup, ferrying children to ball games, church conventions and school conventions.

    “That was her deal,” Fitz Hill said, “to keep kids active, keep them doing something, keep them out of trouble.”

    In her scarce free time — she also helped clean a doctor’s home — Mary Hill loved shopping with friends in Hot Springs, Shawn Hill said. At the local Piggly Wiggly, she also loved to collect S & H Green Stamps, which were part of a national rewards program, and redeem them in Hot Springs, he said.

    Always ready to pounce on seasonal shopping deals, “my mom was one of those that on Dec. 26th, she would start shopping” for the following Christmas, Shawn Hill recalled.

    One of Mary Hill’s prime passions was serving St. Paul AME Church in Arkadelphia, relatives said. She helped coordinate its youth programs, directed its youth choir and brought in neighborhood children, especially those from single parents, said one such recruit, Patsy Harris.

    Harris, who joined the youth choir at 9, recalled on Sundays that Hill “would call my mother and make sure that I was there.”

    The two stayed close, a situation Harris feared would change when she became pregnant as a single woman in her early 20s. She was ashamed to break the news.

    “When I did get the strength up to tell her, she said ‘I already know. We gotta raise this boy, and we gotta keep you active,’” Harris recalled. Often when Harris felt despondent during her pregnancy, she said Hill would call.

    “‘You need to get up,’” Hill would say. “Get your Bible. Let’s read it.’” Then, after some of that: “‘Be ready, I’m gonna come get you. We’re gonna go get you ice cream,’” Harris recalled, laughing.

    “When I had my son, she was the first person I saw when I woke up.”