Gary M. Hill, 75, former Marine, ‘furry loveable ole’ dad,’ the ‘man of the perpetual smile,’ passed away on December 29th after a years-long battle with cancer. He was preceded in death by his father, Wayne, his mother, Jane, his brother, Robert and his stepson, Mark Heh. He is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years, Dianne, his son Adam, daughter-in-law Priscilla, and his four grandchildren, Noelle, Garrett, Giana, and Amelia.
I met Gary for the first time on the day of my birth in 1974, but he must not have made much of an impression, because I do not remember anything about the occasion. However, the 27-year-old who held me and felt, for the first time, the ‘electricity’ of connection- something he would bring up during a hug or handshake for the rest of his life by saying simply, ‘can you feel it?’- had already made quite an impression on the world around him.
Born on Christmas Day, 1946 in Orchard Park, New York, he quickly demonstrated a proclivity for all things mechanical, especially the modifying, maintaining, and crashing of automobiles. He grew up strong and healthy with a can-do attitude and his trademark winning smile (that was temporarily damaged the day after his braces were removed when he flew over his handlebars and killed both of his front teeth. His mother Jane, who rarely drank, would have been forgiven for indulging that day at the loss of all that beautiful, orthodontia. His father, Wayne, who had bottles hidden all over the house, would have joined in and toasted the occasion to do so).
When Gary wasn’t waking up to find all of the family pants stolen out of their house (true story), he continued to excel in the physical sciences and envisioning possibilities that others couldn’t. He was drafted into the United States Marine Corps in 1966 to little ceremony and great hand wringing by his parents and was said to be such a physical specimen at the time that the intensities of boot camp only resulted in added belly fat. His mother, a woman of deepest faith, began a prayer vigil so powerful, Gary’s troopship miraculously ended up in Guantanamo Bay rather than Vietnam for the duration of his service.
After being honorably discharged in 1968, he worked odd jobs until one day he found himself pumping gas into the blue Mustang of a beautiful blonde. “I’m going to marry that girl,’ he told his co-worker. Just six months later, after she accepted his proposal via handwritten poem (which still hangs on the wall), ‘Re’ proved himself true to his word as he and Dianne walked down the aisle and into the next 51 years.
An entrepreneur, Gary started his own paint company, Spectrum, and worked from before sun up to after sundown for clients who appreciated his steady, precise hand and attention to detail. While vacationing in Arizona, he and Dianne decided they’d had enough of blizzards and ice and commissioned a house to be built in Phoenix. Within weeks, the family loaded into their ’79 Bonneville and trekked West with no job prospects, borrowed money in their pockets, a commitment to hard work, and faith that it would all work out.
Once there, Gary continued his love affair with the automobile and single-handedly removed the engine from a Camaro and placed it into the 71 El Camino he rebuilt from the ground up (and had to re-rebuild after he was rear-ended). He also discovered the calling that one might expect of a charming, good-looking, straight shooting, fair-minded man who’d never met a stranger: a salesman. And he excelled at it. He would continue in sales with great achievement, multiple promotions, the co-founding of another successful business (Atlantic Automotive Equipment), and dozens of quota-exceeding reward vacations that allowed him and Dianne to travel the world. He ‘retired’ in the early 2000s, but never became idle.
Gary, an unflappable optimist who truly believed his personal catchphrase and family motto, ‘where there’s a Hill, there’s a way,’ brooked no minor inconveniences when his boundless creativity could engineer a solution and make things better. From handcrafting custom speaker boxes to creating ignition jump switches, to ‘Gary-rigging’ innumerable inventions of convenience, to helping his son demo, frame, wire, plumb, and finish not one but two enormous basement projects, his imagination and vision were only matched by the incredible craftsmanship of his powerful hands. ‘Ampa’ took scrap wood, bucket tops, and spare parts and created beautiful to scale horse stables, bunk beds, and gym equipment for his granddaughters’ dolls, as well as, a working battery-powered campfire for the teepee tent they shared with their brother.
In his later years, Gary contentedly tinkered in his shop, maintained the wooded acreage around his home from the seat of his trusty Kubota tractor, walked the family dogs (Rocky and then Roxie), watched NASCAR, and ate from the tubs of mixed nuts that he was gifted every Christmas.
I will forever hear his laughter when I tell a joke, smell him amongst the sawdust of projects and oils of maintenance, use the ‘What would Dad do?’ benchmark to cleverly solve problems, and draw power from the electricity of family connectedness until we are reunited in Heaven where obituaries aren’t a thing. His family and friends will miss him immensely.
If you’d care to share your condolences with the family on facebook, the obituary can be found here. Memorial services will be private.