John Hill

Obituary of John Washburn Hill

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John Washburn Hill

22 July 1929-15 December 2023


The life of John Washburn Hill, 94, of Duxbury came to a peaceful end after a brief illness on 15 December 2023 at the Veteran’s Hospice Hospital in Brockton.

Known to most as Jack he was born 22 July 1929 in the Brockton Hospital to Edwin and Phyllis (Jenkins) Hill of Whitman where he grew up. His life commenced with the last silent films and the beginning of The Great Depression ending with the onset of Artificial Intelligence.

When Jack was ten years old, his father Edwin died from a bleeding ulcer. This devastating death necessitated him to go to work to help support the family. Whitman was a small town, everyone knew everyone else. Businessmen in town took him under their wings giving him a variety of jobs. The most daunting get up at 5:30 rain, shine, sleet or snow then walk uptown to stoke the furnace in several buildings. When finished return home, eat breakfast then walk to school. Another job was cleaning up the Whitman Movie Theatre between shows where he was able to watch the weekly newsreels. This sparked his interest in history.

While attending Whitman High School, Jack was a four-year member of the varsity football team and was named to the Brockton Enterprise and Boston Globe all scholastic football teams. His classmates voted him most likely to succeed. At graduation he was awarded the Eugenia F. Lovell Medal, the highest award and the final award granted at graduation. It was given by vote of the faculty to the boy or girl in the top third of the class academically who was outstanding in character and leadership, particularly in service to the School, Jack followed these values the rest of his life.

He entered Brown University where he received a BA in political science in 1953. He was the only starting member of the freshmen football team to graduate. For two years he was the heavy weight wrestler but due to financial restraints he could not continue to compete with the team. During the summer he worked 40 hours a week or more. First at the Gurney Shank Factory for $17.00 a week; next on the high power lines replacing poles, a most dangerous job with absolutely no safety rules; last at the new VA building in Brockton lugging wheel-barrels of cement for 10 weeks, the pay was excellent - $1.50 per hour - plus a great workout for fall football. Graduation brought two draft letters one from the Green Packers the other the U.S. Army.

He reported for duty at Fort Devens in August. After basic training he was assigned to Fort Monmouth in N.J. where he became a still photo laboratory technician. This afforded him many interesting assignments including flying upside down in a piper club filming without restraints. Whenever there was a disturbance in a barrack the sergeant in charge would send for Jack to quell the problem peacefully. Jack was discharged in 1955 having been awarded a Good Conduct Medal and National Defence Service Medal.

He returned to Whitman only to find his two grandmothers and mother living in a house in much need of repair. He took the first job offered to him, and worked for GMAC for the next four years. While he found the job unfulfilling, the experience gave him insight into where he wanted to take his career. His salary was cut by over half, lost a company car, lost all stock options and an expense account. He was hired by Keene N.H. to teach English and history at the high school. He loved everything about the high school level thus never looked back. One day the secretary in the front office summoned him. She announce he had been chosen - for what he asked? The previous month she had grabbed him in the hallway asking for his signature on a record . She had pulled the wool over his eyes, he was really applying to the Experiment in International Living. Jack was sent to Berlin, Germany for the summer of 1960. He lived with a college professor for eight weeks. It was the year before the Berlin Wall constructed. People including Jack freely crossed between East and West Berlin. The Keene Business Organisation sponsored the program and paid for everything including a generous spending allowance. Jack’s only requirement upon his return in the fall, give a presentation to any business group wanting to learn about his assigned country. The total talks, 38.

To continue in his chosen field he needed a degree in education. He was accepted at Harvard University School of Education awarded a MA teaching degree specialising in history in 1962. He also began teaching in Weymouth High School a course titled Problems of Democracy and coach wrestling. Several members of the team became state champions in their weight class then participated in Nationals. Many were recruited by top college wrestling coaches.

Now living in Whitman again he was urged by many residents to run for school committee, he did, he won, ran for a second term, elected chairman of the board. The Superintendent, Edwin Rowell, had a daughter Betty. In 1966 he resigned his position and married Betty. 

He was accepted as a doctoral candidate in school administration at Boston University graduating in 1971.

In 1968 the Duxbury School Committee offered him the position of DHS principal. This was a turbulent time for youth in high school; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, the Vietnam War was very unpopular, millions of people across the USA took to the streets to protest our continued involvement in the war, high school students saw only gloom and doom in their future. Jack listened to all parties - the parents, teachers, students and administration - through his quiet leadership helped to restore student optimism.

Shortly after moving to Duxbury Jack sought out a coffee shop open by 5:30 a.m. Several early risers were there, one in particular struck up a conversation. After several mornings it became clear to both of them they were not on the same page. Bob Holmes a Republican, Jack Hill a Democrat continued their conversation, even agreeing occasionally, in one form or another for 35 years. They would walk out the door with a “see you tomorrow”.

Jack enjoyed the challenges presented to him during his tenure at DHS. No one year ever was the same including the school body which turned over by 25% every year. Jack believed the glass was always half full. No matter what the obstacles may be, he worked for the town of Duxbury, and believed was entrusted with the responsibility to lead in partnership with the parents, teachers, students and town officials the high school to the highest standard of education possible for all students. He required two things from the teaching staff, know your subject matter and enjoy working with kids. Jack respected diversity of thought and experience in the staff because he wanted students exposed to many ideas. He was first a teacher, mentoring many. His office door was always open. In the late 80’s because the economy was bleak the town had to cut all department budgets. Jack prepared a budget for less than his share in order to strengthen the elementary level curriculum and supervision. Superintendent Don Kennedy commended his unselfishness, insight and recognition of the importance of a comprehensive early education.

When Jack retired in 1993, a former superintendent wrote him a note calling him a a great principal who was deeply engaged in the instructional process, someone he often couldn't find in his office because he was out in the "hallways, gym, cafeteria, parking lot and playing fields “you wanted to be out there among teachers and kids where the real action was."

After retiring Jack and his friend Terry Keleher started a book club based on the Chicago Great Books list. The membership changed over the years, but the premise has not: read and discuss great works of literature. The group still meets at the Duxbury Library.

Jack was an avid reader of all forms of writing and subject matter (including mysteries, one of which he always had going) Jack ran for a position on the Library Trustees. He served for five terms, 1994 - 2009.

He felt there was still much to learn; UMass Boston offered Seniors the opportunity to fill a class quota for $3 a semester. He registered in several graduate-level sessions studying notable writers, i.e., Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.

In 1994 The Duxbury Parade Committee elected him Parade Marshall. Rather than riding, he requested he be allowed to walk the route along Washington Street as he had most mornings and evenings during his tenure at DHS.

He enrolled in woodworking sessions at the Cambridge Centre for Adult Education with instructor Dan Parent who does all his woodworking with hand tools. Using the methods taught by Dan he was able to produce several pieces of furniture in his small workshop.

Jack was an active facilitator in the Duxbury Senior Centre Continuing Education program. Most notably overseeing many sessions discussing, When Jesus Came To Harvard by Harvey Cox.

Member of The First Parish Church, Duxbury.

In 2003 Jack and Betty were given the opportunity to house sit a month for friends of their daughter in Charlbury, England while they went to Ireland. This arrangement continued through 2016. Although times had changed since his father left England Jack took this opportunity to connect with family, to make new friends and understand the culture and government of his father’s family. 

He is survived by his wife Elizabeth (Betty) May Hill, née Rowell, daughter Christine Elizabeth Hill of Duxbury and son Edwin John Rowell Hill (partner Michael Starr) of Roslindale. Three cousins in the UK, Stephen (Momoyo) Lord of Eynsham, Catherine (Tom) Martin of Mold, Wales, Frances (Alan) Whitham of Lea-by-Backford and their extended families, several nieces and nephews, his granddogs Chester and Edith Ann. He was predeceased by his brother William Jenkins Hill and sister Nancy Hill.

A Celebration of Life will be held at First Parish Church, 878 Tremont St., Duxbury at noon 11 May followed by a reception and lunch at the Duxbury Senior Center, 10 Mayflower St. 

Internment will be at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to The Duxbury Thrift and Consignment Shop Scholarship Fund, PO Box 2108, Duxbury, MA  02331 in memory of John Washburn Hill retired DHS Principal or The Duxbury Senior Centre Continuing Education Fund, 10 Mayflower St., Duxbury, MA 02332 in memory of Jack Hill.

A Memorial Tree was planted for John
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Shepherd Funeral & Cremation Service - Kingston
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John Hill

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John Hill

1929 - 2023

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