A longtime LaGrange business leader and political leader will be memorialized Saturday afternoon. R.G. “Bob” Hill, who died July 28, was 88.
“He always worked really hard,” said his daughter, Diane Hill. “He enjoyed living here. He made great friends.”
R.G. Hill came to LaGrange in 1962 because of those great friends, many the Albany native had made at Georgia Institute of Technology. He went to college with Joe Daniel and John Newman and wanted to establish his business – and finish raising his family – in the community he’d heard so much about at Georgia Tech.
Ironically, R.G. Hill – who was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, roomed at the university his freshman year with Jimmy Carter, who would go on to become president.
His own political career may not have reached such lofty heights as Washington, D.C., but the legacy he left in LaGrange still is remembered. Retired Georgia legislator Jeff Brown said the inroads Hill made in the community helped him get elected to LaGrange City Council and the state House.
“Bob Hill helped to organize the Troup County Republican Party, ran for the Georgia House of Representatives in 1968 and for the County Commission in 1990,” Brown said. “Therefore, there was a solid base of Republican support and the voters weren’t shocked to see a Republican on the ballot for a local race. When I ran in 1989 for the LaGrange City Council and in 1994 for the Georgia House of Representatives, both of which I won, Bob and his wife Aleese had already played a very helpful role.”
Gene Woodall, former LaGrange mayor, said Aleece was no “shrinking violet” either when it came to local politics.
“She was as strong as he was,” Woodall said this week.
The Hills founded the Troup County Taxpayers Association as Brown began his city council term.
“I’d be less than genuine if I said I agreed with all that they were doing, but I have no doubt that they played an important watch-dog role,” Brown said. “Additionally they were key in getting Mr. Woodall elected as mayor. These two roles directly align themselves with what many years later the Tea Party (LaGrange Patriots) is doing locally and nationally.”
Woodall may not have always agreed with Hill either, however, “I always respected him,” Woodall said. Hill suggested Woodall run for mayor and he and Aleece went door to door in the mill villages to help him campaign.
It may have been meant to be that Woodall and Hill would become friends. Their paths crossed many times over the years, beginning at Georgia Tech. Hill was six months older than Woodall and “he was smarter than everybody,” Woodall says. Hill was manager of the football team that Daniel and Newman played on.
He graduated from the school in just three years and went on to serve in the Navy on the USS Monterey, part of the Enterprise fleet. He was a gunnery sergeant.
“He shot down kamakazis,” Diane Hill said. But like others of his generation, Hill didn’t talk about his military service until he took a trip about three years ago on an Honor Flight with other World War II veterans to the memorial in Washington, D.C.
Hill was on his ship in the Sea of Japan when the bombs were dropped and the war ended. The ships were overflowing with Japanese citizens seeking refuge after the attack.
“He said there were so many injured people on the ship and it was just overflowing,” Diane Hill said. “Many died on the way back.”
Military service was important in the Hill family, however. Three of R.G. Hill’s four brothers – he’s one of seven children – were in the military. His family dates back to the Revolutionary War and and Diane Hill’s son is in Afghanistan now. While in the service, he went to Washington, D.C., where he met Aleece at at dance at the Mayflower hotel. They were married 55 years.
Hill went back to Georgia Tech and got a master’s degree in industrial engineering, landing a job with Shell Oil and living in Houston and New York. Hill’s New York City office was in the same building where “Late Night with David Letterman” tapes now.
Eventually though, Hill wanted to start his own business and founded Hill Oil Company in LaGrange.
When Woodall came back to LaGrange to work for Milliken he and Hill wound up as neighbors, but didn’t really begin associating with each other until the early 1990s when Lafayette Parkway construction was set to begin. The road was planned to cut off one of Woodall’s service station at Daniel and Greenville streets from the main thoroughfare.
“He had his heels dug in,” Woodall said, and the Taxpayers Association was formed shortly after. The association sent representatives to be present at every city, county and school board meeting – Hill also was against consolidating the schools – and report back.
Hill wound up suing then-LaGrange Mayor Chris Joseph for having meetings behind closed doors and Joseph was given a small fine.
Lafayette Parkway, however, would go on in spite of his objections.
“He was always working and when something impeded his progress he didn’t like it,” Woodall said.
That didn’t mean he didn’t have time for other civic involvement, however. He was one of the founders of LaGrange Academy.
He was active with the LaGrange Chamber of Commerce and helped establish the LaGrange Industrial Park that brought new businesses here. He was a member of Highland Country Club for 46 years. Diane Hill said her father stayed active in retirement until about two years ago.
He is survived by four children and 10 grandchildren.
“He was a good family man,” Woodall said.