Bob Hill lived a life of community service

By Joan Lawrence-Bauer
Known alternatively as “Mr. Fix It,” “Mr. Legion” and “Mr. Boy Scout,” Bob Hill was remembered fondly this week for a lifetime of service to his country and his community. 

Hill died Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Foothills Presbyterian Home in Easley, S.C. where he lived for the last two years, having spent the rest of his life in Margaretville.  A chief lineman with New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG), Hill was a decorated veteran of World War II, a fireman, ambulance driver, elder in the Presbyterian Church, Boy Scout leader, active member of American Legion Post 216, and the person to go to when any small engine or motorized equipment was broken.
“There was no one like him,” said Margaretville Mayor Bill Stanton, who worked with Hill at NYSEG and served with him for decades as leaders of Boy Scout troops and councils.  “Bob was at NYSEG for 25 years and a leader in scouting for probably 45 years and I never heard a bad word from him or about him in all those years.”   

Hill, who was 87 when he died, was a quintessential member of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”  Born Robert A. Hill on December 8, 1925, the son of Arthur Hill and Mabel Becker Hill, Bob came of age during the Great Depression and developed what Brokaw described as “values of ‘personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith,’ and modest demeanor.”  Hill lived out those values on Orchard Street helping to give Margaretville that small town goodness made famous in the “Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry RFD.”

Like so many of his generation, Hill grew up during the depression, and went to school in what is now the Margaretville Firehall until the “new school” on Main Street was completed in 1939.  He was a Boy Scout, school sports star and an avid skier.  He enlisted in the Army while still in high school, and graduated in January, 1944, after three and-a-half years on an accelerated program to move young men from school to the front lines.   He served in the 66th Black Panther regiment and was aboard the SS Cheshire on Christmas Eve in 1944,  being transported from England to France for the Battle of the Bulge when another ship they were escorting, the SS Leopoldville, was torpedoed by Germans, killing 763 Americans and more than 1,000 of other nations.  Hill went on to earn a Combat Infantryman’s Badge and a Purple Heart among other honors. 

He was honorably discharged in June, 1946 and married Virginia Ruth Thompson, a nurse on August 11, 1946.  From their home on Orchard Street, they raised their son Kenneth and became known for quietly helping others at every opportunity.  Among his earliest activities was becoming a Boy Scout leader, which became a life-long mission.  Hill not only served the scouting movement in Margaretville but also was a board member for the Otschodela Council (serving Otsego, Schoharie and Delaware counties) and earned the Silver Beaver award, the highest award given to any adult in scouting.  Otschodela Council Scouting Executive Tom Wright said,  “I’ve been at the Otschodela Council for 23 years and he was here way before me.  He was not just always there; he was always fun to work with.  He was a really, really good person.”

A member of the Margaretville Fire Department, when new laws governing ambulance services were passed, Hill was among the first to volunteer for Margaretville’s new community ambulance service.  He and other volunteers became the region’s first EMTs, covering the area round the clock as well-trained volunteer drivers and technicians.  Hill was honored in 2009 with the Keene Roadman Citizen of the Year award for his service on the ambulance squad.

The Hills worshipped at the Presbyterian Church located just up the street from their home and Bob became an Elder in the church, which for many years offered the community’s most popular interfaith candlelight service at Christmas each year.  Long-time neighbor Willis Marks recalled Hill’s demeanor in the community.  “I was probably a senior when he was a freshman,” said Marks.  “And back then, we seniors were too important to talk to freshmen.  But I always knew him and admired his activity in the community.”  Marks, a Legion member with Hill, added “he had the respect of everyone I knew and was a great help to me when I was the County Commander of the Legion.” 
Don Kearney, financial officer for the Legion post noted that Hill played many important roles in the organization, which sends high school juniors to Boys’ State and Girls’ State each year and has given countless scholarships to high school graduates through the years.  He was made an Honorary Life Member of Post 216 for his service.

Though Hill retired from his work at NYSEG, he never retired from community service.  He operated a small repair shop from his home where he fixed almost anything anyone ever brought to him from a vacuum cleaner to an egg beater to a lawnmower, usually for a very small fee.  Close friend and Margaretville resident Tom Smith told the News this week that even when he moved into the Presbyterian Home, he continued fixing things – amazing staff members who would bring in things that piqued Bob’s interest.

Daughter-in-law Lydia Hill echoed that sentiment.  “The staff and residents at the Presbyterian Home called him ‘Mr. McGiver, Mr. Fixit, Mr. Velcro’  because his  mind was so sharp that if he needed something fixed or an inventive way of making himself be as independent as possible, he came up with it,” said Hill. “He always told me other people’s needs were greater than his and he didn’t want to take the attention of nurses who were serving others.”

She went on to reflect on the values and the stamina of this member of the Greatest Generation.  “Bob loved his family and friends. He was a fighter and never gave up even after he lost his leg and his son died.  When Bob lost his leg the doctors told us he would probably never wear a prosthetic and if he could, he would never be able to walk with one.  He proved them wrong on both counts. He walked with a walker throughout the facility (which he loved), he swam in the pool, and did physical therapy religiously.”

Hill won’t soon be forgotten.  Tom Smith said it best when he said, “Whether it was a meeting, an event, or even when hunting up at camp, Bob was always where you needed him, when you needed him there.”  And as Mayor Stanton noted, “He never  did what he did for recognition or awards.  He did it because that’s just who he was.” 

But maybe Hill said it best – for himself and for a whole generation – at the end of a videotape produced by the Legion in 2009.  When asked about his war service and his life, Hill said simply, “we did what we had to do.”

Hill was predeceased by his wife of 63 years, Ruth and son Ken, and by his sister Mary.  Another sister, Pauline, passed away just hours after Hill died. 

He is survived by his daughter-in-law Lydia and granddaughter, Jenni Rich and brothers Peter and John.  A memorial service to celebrate Bob’s life will be held in April at the Margaretville Presbyterian Church. He will be interred beside his wife Ruth at the M.J. Dolly Cooper Veterans Cemetery in South Carolina.