Catalina Island News

William Richardson Hill, 1917-2017


William Richardson Hill was born in Pasadena, California on August 7, 1917, to Fred G. Hill & Ethel Richardson Hill. His grandparents were early settlers of Pasadena, and had started a long tradition of Catalina summers in the late 1800s – the Richardson’s in 1878, and the Hill’s in 1890. Bill’s first summer on the Island was 1919, spent at 315 Catalina Ave. It was one of the 3 houses his Grandpa Hill built in 1908, on leased land from the Banning’s.

Dad lived such a great, long life, and had such a variety of wonderful experiences.

He got to see so much of the world, going to places in the early 1930s where few travelled – China, where he walked on the Great Wall; the Philippines, where he sailed into the eye of a hurricane; Hawaii, where he surfed on a redwood board he had to drag to the ocean; Cuba, where as a 17-year-old he brought back a gallon of rum; and Panama, where he told people that he swam through the Panama Canal (he was in the pool on the ship as it passed through).

He and Mom (wife Jeanne Hill) also ventured to Guadalajara, Cabo, La Paz, Mazatlan, Costa Rica, Tahiti, Russia, Ireland, England, Canada, and explored the Channel Islands.

I got to go with him on his last big adventure – a fishing trip to Cabo when he was 97! He must like fishing because he was willing to get up at 5 a.m., at a time when you typically couldn’t get him out of his pajamas before noon. He caught a beautiful Wahoo. Just what he wanted.

He was always industrious in his own way. When he was young, and while his friends spent their summers working all week in the grocery store for $2/week, Dad would go out three days a week, fish until noon, catch 100 pounds of barracuda and sell for 2 cents a pound, making his $2/day.

During the Rose Parade, this savvy 10-year-old would charge people a dollar to park on his lawn on Colorado Blvd, while he watched comfortably from his window.

There were so many different things he knew how to do, so many things he could fix. I think it was because he did so many different jobs. I could never figure out the order, but here are some examples:

  • Worked at his dad’s Model T car lot
  • Got his pilot’s license and owned and flew his own plane
  • Worked at Maywood Motors
  • Owned a trophy manufacturing business
  • Worked at Lockheed, assembling planes
  • Served as a photographer in the Army Air Corp during World War II
  • Drove shoreboats at the Isthmus & Avalon
  • Owned a mine
  • Served National Ski Patrol
  • Owned and bred race horses and Angus cattle with his first wife OrLynn Phillips and step-daughter Lindy on the family ranch called Wiki-Up in Santa Rosa
  • Got his captain’s license and ran a fishing charter business
  • Worked on gas and salt water lines in Avalon for Edison
  • Installed plumbing with Bill Jones
  • Did electrical work with “Mac” McLeish

In 1962, William Richardson Hill opened the Sears Catalog Store with his new wife Jeanne. They moved into his mother’s house on Eucalyptus where they raised their three children, Gina, Roger and Kathleen.  Finally, owning The Old Turner Inn Bed & Breakfast, where he entertained guests with his stories and first hand history of the Island.

Bill amazed all with many stories about his life, like single handedly landing a 198 lb. marlin in a small skiff with a 6hp engine (without a gaff!), to encounters with historic characters – from playing catch with Jackie Robinson at PJC (with a football), to seeing Gandhi while on a remote river in India during World War II, to watching Einstein drop a daily letter in the mailbox on the corner across from his home near Cal Tech.

What Bill is most known for on the Island is his dancing.  He loved to dance, and did so up until his 100th New Year’s Eve, in January 2017.  His little known secret, only to be divulged now, is that his moves were much more charm than skill.  While Mom often said his timing was off, his trick was to just let the ladies keep time and he’d handle the spins and the smooth passes.

To Me—Dad really lived in the Present.  He enjoyed today and did what needed to be done today.  And although he told many stories of the past, he did not cling to it nor have laments – he just shared the joy of it.

We think Dad lived beautifully in the present, shared the joy of the past, and let the future come naturally. Bill passed quietly in the wee hours of the morning on April 14, 2017, Good Friday.  He was at his beloved home on Catalina Island, doing it his way.  He so enjoyed all the friends and family that came to see him there the last few months.  And he was bright and telling stories right up to the end.  He was laid to rest in a small, beautiful gathering of family and friends at the family plot at Mountain View Cemetery in Pasadena.  

He is survived by daughter Gina Hill; son Roger Hill and daughter-in-law Colette Hill, with granddaughter Caty Hill; daughter Kathleen Hill Carlisle and son-in-law Dave Carlisle with grandchildren Trevor Zeller, Kellen Zeller and Chelsea Zeller; step-daughter Lindy Sheldon and husband Jim Thomas, with grandson Max Maag; son-in-law David Zeller with wife Eileen Torres-Zeller and grandson David Luciano Zeller.

A celebration of life will be held on Catalina for his Island friends to gather, share a smile, and, of course, a dance (date to be announced).

Donations can be made in his name to the Avalon Booster Club, PO Box 2006, Avalon, CA 90704, which his beloved wife Jeanne helped found.

By daughter Kathleen Hill Carlisle