Henry Lea Hillman: 1918-2017
May 01, 2017 08:22AM
By Vanessa Orr
We call someone who spends their time, money and hard work on their home “house proud.” Looking at the life of businessman and philanthropist Henry Lea Hillman, who passed away on April 14, 2017 at the age of 98, the more apt term would probably be “city proud.”
It’s almost impossible to spend time in Pittsburgh without seeing how Hillman, and his wife of 70 years, Elsie, supported the city they loved. Anyone who has ever attended a performance at the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy has enjoyed their largesse, as have those who have marveled at the masterpieces showcased in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Families who have enjoyed the ice rink outside PPG Place can thank Henry Hillman and his company; students who study computer design at Carnegie Mellon University also owe the family a debt of gratitude.
And many families, mine included, will never be able to thank them enough for the life-saving research and technologies that they helped to advance through the creation of the Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and their support of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
A tribute to Henry Hillman could easily become a laundry list of the charities and organizations he supported; the list of companies in which he invested or on whose boards he served could fill a book. An astute and innovative businessman, he was still the chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors of The Hillman Company at the time of his death; during his business career, he served as the director of no less than 15 companies, including General Electric Company, Merck & Co., Inc., National Steel Corporation, Texas Gas Transmission and Pittsburgh National Bank. At one time, his company was the largest venture capital investor in the nation, helping to spur the development of Silicon Valley, as well as technology firms in western Pennsylvania, including Respironics and Medrad.
But what stands out most to those who knew him well—this father of four, grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather of 16—was his character.
“From the Hillman Cancer Center to his support for Children’s Hospital, the Carnegie Library and so many other important institutions, Henry–along with his late wife, Elsie–worked even harder to put his wealth to work improving lives than he did to grow his fortune," said Demchak. “Henry was a friend and a visionary civic leader. His loss will be felt by all who knew him, as well as the thousands more who may never know all that he did to improve the quality of life we enjoy throughout the region.”
Just like Elsie, who passed away in 2015, Henry Hillman will be greatly missed by the Pittsburgh community. Much to their credit, they leave behind a legacy that will benefit those who live in the city that they loved for many years to come.