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William Paul Hills, 91, of Watertown, NY, died Tuesday, January 23, 2018, at the Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown after a brief illness.
Born February 12, 1926, he was the son of Paul W. and Jane (Seymour) Hills of Auburn, NY. He graduated from Princeton University in 1950 as a member of the class of 1948. His time at college was interrupted by World World II when he served in the US Army Air Corps. In 1950-51 he studied history and French at the University of Grenoble in France.
William joined the reporting staff of The Watertown Daily Times in 1951, beginning at the Lowville bureau covering Lewis County. He later joined the city desk as a reporter and eventually an editorial writer, and moved to Watertown, where he resided for the rest of his life.
In 1952 he contracted polio, awaking one day feeling unwell and was soon unable to walk. He underwent a year of rehabilitation, regained near complete normal limb function, and seldom thereafter lost an opportunity to walk, bicycle, swim, ski or play tennis. For years he could be seen in Watertown riding a bicycle to work in his customary jacket and tie.
In June 1953 William married Marian Flower Jones of Watertown. The couple eventually had four children.
William had a lifelong interest in politics and economics. He was awarded a Reid Foundation journalism fellowship in 1957 to live and report overseas. With his wife Marian and their two sons, James and William Jr., then toddlers, he sailed to Germany and spent a year living in Munich, reporting on post-war Europe, Germany’s transition to democracy, and the impact of the Marshall Plan. He contributed dozens of articles and editorials to The Watertown Daily Times, took splendid photographs documenting the fellowship year, and enjoyed skiing in the Alps.
William eventually left The Watertown Daily Times to join his wife in running Jones Sport Shop on Public Square, a specialty sporting goods store that operated until 1970. He then took up independent writing. He wrote three commissioned histories of northern New York industry, two of which were published: Father & Daughter: William P. Herring and Pauline H. Dillenback, tells the story of the Herring family, paper manufacturing philanthropists who started an influential scholarship fund in northern New York. Banking On It traced the emergence of northern New York’s robust banking industry in the late 19th century, a major force in the region’s tremendous growth in the 1880s and 1890s. He also wrote a deeply researched history of Watertown’s New York Air Brake company.
As an octogenarian, William embraced the digital age. In 2009 he created a blog featuring the extensive letters his father wrote to his mother (William’s grandmother) from Europe during World War I. To commemorate the 90th anniversary of World War I, William posted the letters for three years, corresponding to the day and month they were written beginning in 1917.
At the time of his death he was at work on a biography of former New York State governor Roswell P. Flower, a North Country native whose self made rise to political and economic prominence and influence was of endless fascination to William.
William was active in numerous civic and community organizations. He was a member of the Watertown City School District Board of Education, serving one term as president. He served on the board of directors of the Flower Memorial Library and the Jefferson County Historical Society. He was active in the Rotary Club of Watertown in the 1960s and 1970s. William was a devoted parishioner at Trinity Episcopal Church throughout his life. He was also a lifelong member of the Republican Party.
William was an avid athlete. Throughout his life, he enjoyed skiing, skating, swimming, tennis and fondly recalled duck hunting parties before his wife persuaded him to leave the ducks alone. His sports passion, however, was tennis. He played competitively in high school and college, and for decades in Watertown and elsewhere he was a sought after singles opponent and doubles partner. He was known on the tennis court for the same quiet demeanor he had off court. He was also a gifted teacher of tennis, patiently instructing all four children in the sport. He was still following Grand Slam tournaments in his 90s.
For decades William served as an alumni liaison for Princeton University college admissions, interviewing and strongly advocating on behalf of scores of North Country applicants.
William was a talented amateur photographer. He documented family life and northern New York in beautifully composed black and white 36 mm photographs. He took literally hundreds of pictures after the devastating 1998 ice storm.
William loved animals. He raised springer spaniels on his parent’s peach farm as a child, rescued cats from rooftops, hosted numerous litters of kittens in the family’s Paddock Street home, and was occasionally called upon to retrieve his children’s misbehaving basset hound from the Watertown High School cafeteria.
William was a voracious reader and lifelong student of American political and economic history. In college, against his professor’s advice but to his lifelong satisfaction, he wrote a senior thesis about the life and career of Bernard Baruch, an important Jewish American financier at the time deemed unworthy of study.
In later life William took up gardening and doted on his grandchildren. But to the end he devoted himself to writing, still hammering out paragraphs at his computer, and maintaining a wide correspondence in his last decade of life.
William will be remembered by his family and friends as a writer and speaker of clear thought and lucid prose, eschewing hyperbole, deploying quiet self deprecating wit, and at all times rejecting malice. He was loyal, intelligent, and sensitive, possessed an eye for detail, an ear for metaphor and was a respecter of facts.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marian Jones Hills, Watertown, sons James S. Hills of Brookline, MA, and William P. Hills and wife Sharon Schoffmann, also of Brookline, MA; his daughters Day F. Hills of Sackets Harbor, NY and Carol B. Hills and her husband Matthew Thurber of Dedham, MA. He also leaves three grandchildren, Sonia S. Hills, Tai Thurber, and Day Thurber, and several cousins. He was predeceased by parents Paul W. Hills and Jane S. Hills, and brother, James S. Hills.
Calling hours will be at the Cleveland Funeral Home in Watertown on Saturday, January 27th from 11am to 1pm. A memorial service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sherman Street in Watertown on Monday, January 29th at 11am. A reception will be held at the church immediately following the service.