Recalled as a leader who was devoted to family, community
In remembrances last week, friends, colleagues and family members recalled late Powell Mayor Don Hillman as a man who truly cared about the people in his life and his community.
Hillman, 74, died Feb. 4 following a lengthy battle with liver cancer.
“Mayor Hillman was a leader, colleague, community supporter, mentor, Panther fan, dad, grandfather and good friend,” Powell Council President John Wetzel said as he opened the council’s Monday, Feb. 6 meeting.
Mourners from across the Big Horn Basin later filled the sanctuary of the Union Presbyterian Church in Powell for Hillman’s Friday morning memorial service.
Jason Hillman said his dad had “a big voice and a big heart.”
Hillman valued relationships and taught his children the importance of being kind to others, Jason Hillman said; he told his kids that people “are not going to remember what you did — they’ll remember how you treated them.”
Hillman supported his children in their endeavors, whether that meant watching every sporting event or letting his daughter, Raquel, practice administering shots into his mouth when she was in dental hygiene school.
Whenever his family or others needed something, Hillman showed up to help.
“He was always there for us,” Jason Hillman said.
He said his dad took good care of his family.
“For as stoic and quiet as he was, he was also real tender and caring,” Jason Hillman said.
When people come to the end of their lives, they often reach out to their loved ones or want to make things right.
“One comfort I had with my dad was that he didn’t have to worry about that, because he spent his whole life making things right,” Jason Hillman said. “Never once did our family wonder if dad loved us, because he showed us all the time.”
He is survived by his wife, Judie; children, Jason (Amy) Hillman and Raquel (Stuart) Schwab; and three grandchildren.
In a eulogy, Hillman’s longtime friend Dave Bonner said Hillman stepped up to get the job done, whether that was in baseball or in public service as mayor.
When Hillman announced he was running for re-election in May 2016, he said plainly, “‘If I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t run,’” recalled Bonner, who is the publisher of the Powell Tribune.
“In effect he was saying, ‘I’m going to give it my all, and we’ll see what happens,’” Bonner said. “He wanted to stay in the game.”
Hillman never used his illness as an excuse, nor did he complain about it.
In his last months as mayor, he championed for the $13.68 million sales tax that will fund the widening of Absaroka Street and other projects; it’s a project he won’t get to see completed, but one that is part of his legacy, Bonner said.
“He was genuine, he was credible, and he made others believe in him and the project,” Bonner said. “That’s the mark of a leader.”
Hillman was easily re-elected in November; he was sworn in to his second term on Jan. 3.
“Little did we know, that the first meeting of his new term was his last as mayor,” Bonner said.
Hillman was also warmly remembered at last week’s council meeting. President Wetzel read a brief statement, informing those in attendance of Hillman’s passing and offering condolences to Hillman’s family and the community that supported him.
“We as a city will miss Don in so many ways. He brought knowledge, forethought, compassion and a good deal more to the challenges of the mayor’s job,” Wetzel said.
He went on to praise the work Hillman accomplished during his time in office, and promised the City of Powell, the council and the city departments would continue that legacy.
“Powell is in great shape in so many ways, especially our infrastructure,” Wetzel said. “He (Hillman) loved to talk about our infrastructure. To many that would be a bore, but not to Don. There was a sense of pride that he spoke of often, based on solid work of all the city employees and councils of years gone by ... that’s a grand tradition we will maintain as we move forward.”
Councilman Floyd Young remembered Hillman as a proven leader who was always searching for solutions to problems facing the city.
“We’re in pretty good shape because of Mayor Hillman’s forward thinking,” Young said. “I’ve always appreciated that. He would see a problem and work to fix it, to make a difference.”
Powell Wastewater Superintendent Bill Winters shared an anecdote about the mayor, illustrating his friendship and generosity. As a councilman in 1990, Hillman was instrumental in helping Winters successfully enter and complete a treatment program, and for that, Winters will always be grateful.
“That’s just the kind of guy he was, but you all know that,” Winters said to those in attendance. “It was those behind-the-scenes things he took interest in for the citizens of Powell. I just wanted to mention that me, maybe my kids, we might not have been here if some of that wasn’t sought after by him. That was out of the ordinary. His are going to be some big shoes to fill.”