From the UConn Foundation's Our Moment newsletter (June-July 2012)
John Hill, Jr. PhD '51 '54 '73
Photo: University of WisconsinJohn Hill, Jr. PhD '51 '54 '73 (member, UConn Alumni Association) is an honor graduate and served on the UConn Law Review, but was, by his own admission, not the best student in high school. UConn was not his first choice of college. And when he stepped foot on the Fort Trumbull campus in the late 1940s, he could scarcely have imagined that his successful future career would find him serving as the University's first full-time legal counsel and take him all the way to the highest court of the land.
Along the way, UConn became entwined with nearly every aspect of his life. He met his late wife, Barbara '51, at UConn; and his two children, John G. Hill III '79 and attorney Ellen Tangen '80, are both alumni, with the family name represented as the editor of The Daily Campus, on the UConn Alumni Association Board of Directors, in the very beginning of the UConn Co-op, and on the UConn Board of Trustees.
Hill's undergraduate years at the University were spent at Fort Trumbull, then most commonly used for returning veterans, and Storrs, where he joined the Theta Xi fraternity.
"My undergraduate degree changed my life. Coming from where I was in high school, today, I can't imagine that person was me. UConn gave me opportunities to do responsible things at every step. I was involved in the University personally and professionally. And I don't mean just making money. I mean an opportunity to have a decent life, and really enjoyed what I was doing. I owe my career, and all it has brought, to UConn."
Hill's own professional time at the University, representing UConn's legal interests, served as a notable high point in a longer career full of them—what Hill considers "the best professional experience of my life."
His appeal of Vlandis v. Kline in 1973 took him to the US Supreme Court, arguing on behalf of the University and his former UConn School of Law colleague, then-former Governor Thomas Meskill, on the issue of tuition rates for out-of-state students. The case was a loaded political issue at the time, and the chance to argue it was "an incredible honor," he recalls.
Ironically, he was originally advised to stay clear of the new job at the University.
"When I first considered the UConn position, a friend told me, 'You don't want to go there. You'll just be sitting at a desk doing paperwork all day.' It proved to be anything but that," he recalls. It was a turbulent and litigious time with the law for students and faculty. Hill was involved in everything from the racial tensions of the era, to faculty and student lawsuits, and dozens of other hot-button issues from 1967 to 1976.
A scholarship recipient himself, he is a longtime donor to support the University, most recently establishing a $100,000 planned gift to create the Barbara and John G. Hill, Jr. Scholarship in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He previously established another endowed fund to support the political science department.
He says that his philanthropy is more than just paying back for the opportunities he had.
"It's not about just giving back. It's about the fact that I want my donations to help make the University as good as it can be, especially in the times that we're in now. Students today should take great pride in where they've gone for their higher education."
A veteran of so much experience at UConn, he readily explains his vision for the future.
"The University of Connecticut should be a place where the sons and daughters of this state can get a first-class education, which can then provide them with a better, richer life and more opportunity," he says. "The students today, they may not know yet how UConn will change their life, but it will. They will look back and find that college made them a broader person, a happier person. The things you experience at college sometimes aren't appreciated until many years later, not when you're taking your courses. College gives you the chance to live a fuller life. At least, it certainly did for me."
To support the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, please contact the Foundation's development department.